It's not very often that a sequel outshines its predecessor, that it fills in all the right details and completes
the original story arc with satisfaction, and that it entertains while exuding passion and purpose. But that's
precisely what "Kill Bill, Volume 2" does. Conformity and convention have never suited Quentin Tarantino, a former
video store clerk with a knack for mixing pop with pulp. Tarantino has brought to life a series of original,
non-conforming and abrasive films such as "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," and "Jackie Brown." And you can add to
that list, "Kill Bill," perhaps his finest work yet. Further detailing the saga of The Bride and her attempt to exact
revenge on Bill, "Kill Bill, Volume 2" not only completes the original story; it stands alone as one of the year's
most entertaining films.
The film picks up stylishly in black and white. The Bride (Thurman) has just dispatched with the Crazy 88s, not to
mention her former colleagues O-Ren Ishii and Vernita Green, and is heading down the highway on a mission of justice.
She tells the audience: "I've killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point and I'm going to kill Bill." But
before she can get to the main man responsible for destroying her wedding, abducting her child, and embedding a bullet
in her skull, she must first dispense with two other foes on her so-called Death List: Bill's kid brother Budd and
her DiVAS rival, Elle Driver. The two are conniving adversaries, each with underestimated strengths and weaknesses.
And one even manages to bury The Bride ten feet under.
But despite their best efforts, neither is a suitable match for The Bride's raw determination. Acknowledges Budd, "That
woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die." That's not to say that they make it easy for her. Ultimately,
however, it is her strong sense of mission and her fond recollections that strengthen her resolve and help her defeat
them. Some of those recollections involve her love/hate relationship with Bill, her final actions and thoughts before
the wedding rehearsal massacre, and her martial arts training with the legendary and formidable Pai Mei (white eyebrow).
With a Honzu sword in tow and a vengeful chip on her shoulder, it's inevitable that The Bride finds herself on a dusty
road in the middle of Mexico just outside Bill's hacienda.
"Kill Bill, Volume 2" is not so much a sequel as it is the second half of a 4-hour mini series. The film is
broken into chapters such as "The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz," and "The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei" and it
does a remarkable job of filling in the details for those unfamiliar with the original. In other words, you
don't necessarily have to have seen "Kill Bill, Volume 1" to follow the story, to grasp its meaning, and to
understand the character's motives. Tarantino does an incredible job of filling in the missing pieces from
different points of view. Of most significance, the story's pivotal event (the Massacre at Two Pines) is
retold from a different perspective, through an offbeat conversation between Bill and The Bride.
Much like Pai Mei flipping his white beard in amusement, Tarantino must be hovering over the film laughing with joy.
I say that with an appreciation because part of what makes the film so grand is that it exudes Tarantino's
love. An avid martial arts movie buff, Tarantino understands and capitalizes on the genre's most important elements: the
student and teacher relationship, the training and work ethic, the choreography, the quirky mythology, and the whimsical
dubbing. And while making light of some elements, he also infuses a high degree of authenticity: shooting the film in
Beijing, hiring famed choreographers Sonny Chiba ("The Streetfighter") and Master Yuen Woo-ping ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon"), using a combination of Chinese, Japanese, and American production designers, and incorporating influential music
from The RZA, a hip hop producer inspired by the sounds of the Orient.
Simply put, the film is a stylistic gem. Under Tarantino's direction, the visual production makes use of black and white
flashbacks, a shortened screen (4x3) to heighten the feeling of claustrophobia, silhouettes to emphasize form, and color
filters to contrast time. Like a comic book frame, we focus on the glassy stares of Budd, the image of Bill fondling a
sword, and the fumbling of a cigarette by Esteban. Furthermore, Tarantino effectually conveys many ironies and
contrasts: sandals and cowboy boots inching closer together, the tranquil sounds of a flute and the harsh sounds of
machine gun fire, a choice between mace and a flashlight, greed and death, a close quartered samurai sword fight, and a
child's innocence corrupted by evil. From a macro view, they become transparent.
Unlike the first installment which graphically sliced and diced its way through the Crazy 88's, detailed the
gruesome origin of O-Ren Ishii (even in animated form, it's horrific), and the grim reality of a child
witnessing the death of her own mother, Volume 2 is less gratuitous and much more tame. Its precision,
restraint, and logistics allow for more story development and more character depth and history. For instance,
we learn why The Bride chose to leave Bill, what Bill's reasoning was in destroying her life, and what
happened to The Bride's child after the incident at Two Pines. And we also gain insight into Budd's reclusive
lifestyle as a bouncer and find out how Elle lost vision in one eye. The only downside to this articulation
is that a few of the scenes rely too heavily on hypnotic and repetitive dialogue, which detracts from the
point of the scene and lingers into more of a philosophical drag.
Ironically, each one of the characters in the film, including the protagonist, is violent by nature. But what
makes them interesting is that there is a virtue or nobility that permeates from within - a warrior mentality of
respect and honor. This quality is at the forefront of each confrontation while hinting at a subtle second
layer - a connection each shares, whether it be the love of a daughter, the need to be loved, or the love of one's
self. The cast is sensational at evoking these qualities: Uma Thurman as the vengeful, yet maternal Bride; David
Carradine as the ruthless, yet paternal Bill; Daryl Hannah as the ambitious, yet unfulfilled Elle Driver; and
Michael Madsen as the complacent, yet greedy Budd.
"Kill Bill, Volume 2" is an enthusiastic rendition of the kung fu universe with elements of a spaghetti
western mixed in. It's violent and sadistic, quirky and surprising, even at its most predictable points. And
yet, it remains fun to watch. That's a tribute to writer/director Quentin Tarantino, a man who willingly
breaks convention, distinguishes his films stylistically, and knows how to make a predictable story
unpredictable. Redefining the action genre with wicked dialogue and powerful payoffs, Tarantino is truly at
the top of his game.