Saturday, April 17, 2004

Kill Bill Vol. 2

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 16 April 2004 at Loews Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

And now the question is, how could Quentin Tarantino have originally conceived this as one film?

Ignore for the moment that the two volumes together add up to four hours - the original cut was reportedly "only" three hours, which for a movie like this would still be pushing the limits of endurance. It would still have made for an oddly structured movie - the first half filled with over-the-top bloodshed and little of the witty dialogue that Tarantino is famous for, the second half more internal, with brief outbursts of violence around a strange sort of tragic love story. The audience would be either exhausted or impatient by the end. Besides, there's not much carry-over of characters between the two movies; even those that The Bride (Uma Thurman) left alive are nowhere to be found, and others are introduced in this segment. That, plus the great cliffhanger (beautifully followed up), makes this feel much more like two movies rather than one split in half. Maybe Harvey Weinstein came up with the idea for business reasons, but Tarantino makes it work creatively.

Tarantino plays with different genres this time around. Volume 1 featured anime, yakuza, 90s-style kung fu, and was in general pretty modern. Volume 2 opens in clear black and white, with even the typeface of the credits referencing tough-guy (or, in this case, gal) movies of the forties and fifties. Along the way, there will be homages and spoofs of the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies of the 70s, spaghetti westerns, and horror. A training session featuring Gordon Liu is straight from the Shaw Brothers, and the action sequences take the form of a Leone western: An alarmingly quick resolution for the amount of tension built up as the sides size each other up.

What really makes this movie is David Carradine as Bill. We've already gotten a glimpse at Uma Thurman as The Bride, but Bill has up until now been just a shadowy, evil figure. Here, we get to see him be more charismatic, and even outright friendly. We get to see enough of him that his being the father of the Bride's child makes sense for reasons other than low self-esteem. The scenes with Thurman, Carradine, and young Perla Haney-Jardine are strange but also redefine the characters, both for the audience and the characters themselves. After all the blood and guts of the first movie, this one becomes mental in the end.

Not all mental, of course. Much of the action is quick, but it's also brutal, with one perfect gross-out moment that got a big, satisfied "eeeew!" from the audience I saw the film with. And several bits are quite funny; while not quite as wall-to-wall with the action as the first movie, it's just as entertaining. And even with all that goes on, there's still bits that are left out. There are several threads that are never quite picked up on that aren't necessary to the central story of The Bride and Bill, but left me curious regardless. That it's left out is fitting, though - it allows the audience to feel all the rest is out there, but that this, the story of Bill, The Bride, and B.B., is what really matters.

NOTE: A number of reviews, among them Roger Ebert's, stick the name of Uma Thurman's character right into the review. This is something of a jackass thing to do, if you ask me. Why I think that might be considered a spoiler, so stop now until you've seen the movie.

Still here? Okay, what The Bride's name is is not important (although knowing it does change the meaning implicit in how Bill addresses her in the first movie's flashback), but that she has one is. Through the first movie and the start of this one, she's an anonymous force of nature. Then she takes an alias, and we see who she wants to be. We don't start to learn much about her as a person until we've learned her real name; that's when she becomes something other than an assassin and more of an individual. And then, when B.B. calls her something else, that's who she's going to be, or at least wants to. Names have power in this movie, and spilling The Bride's is to remove some of it.

No comments: