The opening credits of Kill Bill: Volume 1 proudly proclaimed it "The 4th film by Quentin Tarantino". I wondered if this one would then be labeled the 5th (or perhaps the 4 1/2th?) but the numbering issue is justly avoided: This is the same film we started watching six months ago. So if the beginning isn't still fresh in your head, you may want to check it out again, (The DVD was released in the same week -- Isn't that convenient?) because this shouldn't be treated like a typical sequel.
Slight digression: One of Tarantino's earliest scripts, From Dusk Till Dawn was filmed by his good friend Robert Rodriguez. Tarantino acts in the film (and heaps praise on it on its DVD commentary track) so one can assume it came out the way he wanted. Many people despise this film due to its unconventional narrative structure. The first half is a suspenseful thriller involving bank robbers and a kidnapped family, very much in the vein of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. The second half throws all plot out the window and becomes a vampire splatterfest.
The easiest way to describe the second half of Kill Bill is to say that it follows this same structure in reverse: While the first film is anchored by action sequences, the second is driven by character and dialogue. I retract my earlier assertion that splitting the story into two films was necessary. The second half works to heal the wounds of the first - in a word, closure.
Because I'd like to discuss the details of the plot in great detail below, up here I'll just say, go see it. It's a hell of a lot of fun and it's surprisingly emotional. It's not an "important" film in any sense other than that it's a well crafted adventure story, and as the summer months approach, it's nice to be reminded that Hollywood can sometimes still do those. I especially recommended this film for big fans of spaghetti westerns and martial arts films. If that's you, there are a number of jokes that only you will appreciate.
POTENTIALLY LETHAL LEVEL OF SPOILERS.
It starts with a quick recap of the Bride on the floor of the chapel. Again she gets shot through the head. The title sequence for Vol. 2, instead of the typical white-on-black, is grey with false shadows, as though this was a black and white film from the '30s. And when we fade up to live action, the image is in fact in black and white. Some of you may recognize this portion, where the Bride directly addresses the camera from behind the wheel of a convertible, mentioning the "movie advertisements", as the film's trailer. Which is pretty weird and meta in and of itself, because it seemed like a sequence shot to exist only as a trailer. There's one important difference, though: She tells us there is only one name left on the Death List. So, just like at the beginning of Vol. 1, we know that she will survive whatever is thrown at her -- at least until she gets to Bill.
Chapter Six: Massacre at Two Pines
You may remember, in the montage at the close of Vol. 1, a black and white exchange between a smiling Bride and the always offscreen Bill: "How did you find me?" "I'm the man." This threw a bit of a wrench into my preconception of the scene. (Wait, the DiVAS didn't just blast everyone from behind? They had a conversation with her first?) This chapter takes us back to just before the execution, so we can hear that exchange in full.
This isn't actually a wedding, it's a wedding rehearsal. There's a lot of laughter as the particulars of the ceremony are sorted out (cameo by Sam Jackson as the organist), but for me this scene held an unbearable level of anxiety, because we know at any moment bullets could spray through the windows.
As the Bride excuses herself to get some air, she finds Bill sitting on the chapel porch, all alone, playing his wooden flute. Yes, we are finally allowed to see his face. Once he's claimed he won't try to kill her, he wants to know what her new life will be like. He won't say how he found her. She won't say how she left. But she invites him into the church to meet the groom. She tells him Bill's her father. That way she gets to kiss him.
It's obvious that they still love each other. This tender scene (well, tender until, like I said, the other assassins show up and waste everybody) establishes the emotional core of the piece, and creates anticipation for the reunion of the two at film's end.
Chapter Seven: The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz
This chapter starts out with the lonely life of of Budd, Bill's brother. We never find out what caused the rift between the two of them, but Budd's financial situation has clearly gone steeply downhill as a result. He lives in a camper in the desert of Barstow, California, and works as a bouncer at a topless bar. He arrives at work twenty minutes late and is fired, but before leaving, he agrees to unclog the toilet.
Now either this guy (a) desperately wants to die or (b) desperately wants to prove he is still a warrior. Either way, he lets the Bride come to him. When she sneaks out from underneath his trailer with her Hattori Honzo sword at the ready, he blasts her in the chest with a shotgun.
But she had on a bulletproof vest, right? Nope. It was, however, "only" rock salt pellets. Budd calls Elle Driver
on his cell phone and offers to sell her the Bride's Honzo sword for a million bucks. (This is a substantial increase over the $250 he got for pawning his own.) She agrees.
Now it's time for Budd to orchestrate the Bride's overly elaborate death -- he could end her life with a rock, but he wants her to experience the full-on terror of a Texas funeral. Paula Schultz is the name of the poor dead woman who was dug up so the Bride could be entombed in her place. This sequence is pretty chilling, especially if you're a claustrophobe. We stay trapped in pitch black as shovelfuls of dirt THUD down on top of us. How is our heroine gonna get out of this one, folks? Perhaps a flashback will provide the answer!
(At this point the narrative eerily mirrors Vol. 1; once again the Bride's paralyzed, left helpless by two leering dirty old men. It seems she's still being punished for not dying from that bullet in the head.)
Chapter Eight: The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei
A campfire somewhere in the ruins of an ancient stone structure. Bill tells the Bride a story about the centuries-old war between the Shaolin
and White Lotus
temples, and the venerated master Pai Mei
's development of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, a blow that causes the victim to expire after five steps. This is as far back as we've seen the Bride, and we can really feel the warmth
between her and Bill.
Upon meeting the thousand-year-old master, the Bride discovers that her kung fu is pitifully weak! Pai Mei scoffs at her samurai
sword skills. He dodges her every strike, disarms her with his bare hands, and almost breaks her wrist. Thus begins the most hallowed section of the kung fu film: the training montage! This chapter comes complete with extra film grain and shaky zoom-ins.
GOD I LOVE KUNG FU. IF YOU DO NOT LOVE KUNG FU WHY ARE YOU READING THIS. GO SEE 13 GOING ON 30 STARRING JENNIFER GARNER AND GET OUT OF HERE.
Cut back to the present. The entire purpose of this chapter was to show us that the Bride can punch through a block of wood without pulling back her arm. She cracks her coffin lid and dirt rains in. Quickly she claws her way upward and bursts from the grave just like a zombie, or possibly, just like Buffy did in The Bargaining, Part Two. Then, covered with earth, she walks into a diner and politely requests a glass of water. One of Tarantino's greatest strengths: tempering the melodrama with comedy.
Chapter Nine: ELLE and I
Elle pulls up at Budd's camper with a suitcase of cash. Budd makes her a drink and wants to know if she's sincerely glad to have left the assassination game. She's evasive. Budd starts to count his money, but there's a surprise inside the case: an actual black mamba. As Budd writhes in agony from several bites on his face, Elle tells him all about how deadly mamba venom is. Damn, who knew Daryl Hannah could be this evil.
Then the Bride arrives, and the ladies tussle. Due to the cramped space of the camper, most of the fight is oriented toward keeping the Honzo sword in its sheath. But it's also a hard-core catfight. The Bride tosses a coffee can of Budd's tobacco spit across Elle's face, then gives her a swirly. Things look bleak for the Bride after she gets tossed through a plywood wall into Budd's bedroom, but then she sees -- his Honzo sword sticking out from between his golf clubs! Looks like he just told Bill he sold it to piss him off.
Perhaps the method with which the Bride defeats Elle -- and why -- is the one detail I shall not ruin. (No, it's not by using the sword.) But Elle is not even killed; in the closing credits, when the names of the other DiVAS are crossed out, hers appears with a question mark. I will point out that the Bride never worries for a second about the snake somewhere near her bare feet, as if she knows a fellow mamba would never hurt her.
Final Chapter: Face to Face
To learn his location, the Bride visits the charming Esteban Vallejo, the Mexican pimp who raised him. (In a surprising bit of symmetry, Vallejo is played by Michael Parks, the same actor who played the sheriff that investigated the Two Pines Massacre.) One of Vallejo's whores, grotesquely disfigured by him, serves as a grim reminder of the Bride's previous life: Bill may not have seemed as cruel, but her own punishment for stepping out of line was far worse than a scarring. Vallejo eventually divulges the location, but only because he suspects Bill would want him to.
As she infiltrates his compound, pistol at the ready, we're set up to expect another huge battle -- the camera moves and music echo the arrival at the House of Blue Leaves. But when she finds him, there she finds her four-year-old daughter as well. Now, we knew she was still alive, because Bill told us at the tail end of Vol. 1, but Tarantino threw so much other crazy crap our way that we completely forgot. So it becomes a game of emotional blackmail: Are you really so heartless as to murder me when I've got a daughter who'll miss me? Or perhaps Bill harbors some mad illusion they'll all live together as some kind of family. Or maybe that's just what he wants her to think, so he can kill her when she least expects.
The little girl's name is B.B., and she is heart-breakingly adorable. She's seen pictures of her mother. She's been waiting for her. So Mommy and Daddy play nice. But they don't lie to her, and they don't hide their emotions. Tucking B.B. into bed, Bill calmly explains, "Mommy's mad at me. Because I shot her. Not pretend. With real bullets." Bill lets the Bride be the one to lie with her until she falls asleep. I personally never expected this story to go to such a place of quiet tenderness.
But when the Bride returns to the living room, Bill shoots her in the kneecap. (So much for lowering one's defenses.) Not with a bullet this time, with a neon green truth serum
dart. After a lot of philosophizing about the nature of Superman
(I for one am kind of tired of this pop-culture shtick, Mr. Tarantino), he still just wants to know why she left. It was because she was pregnant. Well, I could have told you that. The ensuing flashback to the Bride's final hit is probably the closest thing in this flick to the Pulp Fiction
-style "I'm supposed to kill you but I have to pee" wackiness we expect from Q.T.
DON'T READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE END OF THE MOVIE. WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW THE END OF THE MOVIE.
There's some very impressive editing in the final sword duel (it makes it look like David Carradine can still fight!), which they bust right into while sitting down. But that's over pretty quickly, and as the title promises, no big surprises, Uma Thurman does in fact kill Bill. And she does it with the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique -- Holy crap, I totally forgot about that too! The beauty of this method is, it finally pays off the foot fetish that has been so repeatedly enforced with every character throughout both films. As Bill takes his final five steps, we can feel, and we know that he can feel, the weight of his mortality. If only we could all carry such bravery through each step.
Regardless the outcome of debate that keeps cropping up in this volume -- are Bill and the Bride natural born killers or do they choose their path with every action? -- I was sure of one tragic truth: They couldn't help but love each other, even to the end.
I like the way this film, like Buffy, opens a lot of doors (rather, breaks them down) for Pulp Feminism. The phrase "you fight like a girl" isn't much of an insult these days. This is more of an extreme than Charlie's Angels or even Crouching Tiger: the whole motivation of this tale is maternal.
(Yeah, I copped most of this from the imdb, but I did you the favor of translating the other movie titles into English
- If this had been released as one film, many scenes would have been cut to fit a three-hour running time. Among them: The Origin of O-Ren Ishii and the Esteban Vallejo scene. The Pai Mei scene also would have shrunk dramatically.
- A chapter entitled "Yuki's Revenge" was scripted but never shot. This would have been a John Woo style "bullet ballet" set in downtown L.A. and is probably where the Pussy Wagon met its end. Yuki is Go-go's sister, who's even crazier than she is.
- In the original trailer, there was a scene of Michael Jai White smashing a table with his bare hands. Where did it go? Who was he supposed to be? WTF?
- There may be a forthcoming anime prequel, depicting Bill's origin and his training. Presumably, we would discover why Hattori Honzo wants him dead.
- There may also be a forthcoming sequel, set 20 years in the future. It would be the story of Nikki Bell, Vernita's daughter, and her quest for revenge.
- Sheriff Earl McGraw is the same character killed at the beginning of From Dusk Till Dawn, and his son is the same character from that film's sequel.
- Hattori Honzo is a name from the Japanese TV series Shadow Warriors. Each year the series focused on a different descendant of the same bloodline, all named Hattori Honzo, so this character is descended from them.
- Pai Mei (which means White Lotus) is a character from several Shaw Bros. films including Fists of the White Lotus. You may remember the Shaw Bros. logo spliced on the beginning of Vol. 1.
- The Bride's name is Beatrix Kiddo. This fact is hidden from us until the final chapter. (Although, if you pause your Vol. 1 DVD, you can read it on her plane tickets.) When anyone says "Beatrix", it's bleeped out. The only purpose for this seems to be the revelation that when Bill calls the Bride "Kiddo", he's not talking down to her. It's a term of respect. Because it's her name.
- When B.B. is asked what video she wants to see before bedtime, she responds "Shogun Assassin", and the audience laughs, because a 4-year-old should not be watching a film with such obvious violent content. What kind of parents are these killers? But much more is going on here. First, Shogun Assassin is not only violent, it is insanely violent, at least as violent as KB Vol. 1 - the DVD cover proclaims "Banned since 1983!! It's impossible to keep a body count!" Second, and more importantly, it is a reedit of two films in a series known as "Babycart" or Lone Wolf and Cub, an adaptation of a popular manga. The story follows an exiled samurai, or ronin, as he travels throughout Edo period Japan with his toddler son. So, the reason B.B. finds this film comforting is because it reflects a single parent situation much like her own.
The music supervisor/composer for this film was RZA
of the Wu-Tang Clan
-- hip-hop heavily influenced by kung fu. This is a kung fu film heavily influenced by hip-hop: most of the score is sampled from other films.
There are of course a pantsload of other references strewn throughout, most of which don't interest me much, but there's one I want to mention. The masks worn by the Crazy 88 are described as Cato masks -- that's Bruce Lee's character in the TV series The Green Hornet. The bright yellow track suit Uma wears in this scene comes from Game of Death, another Bruce Lee film. I haven't seen anyone put these two facts together to conclude that Tarantino is paying homage to the greatest martial arts movie legend of all time by pitting his earliest incarnation against his final incarnation. After all, Lee died while filming Game of Death, but here it's the yellow (haired) warrior who wins.