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Tarantino Adds Substance to Style
by Jeremy Mathews
Uma Thurman sets out to kill Bill and his remaining cohorts in the second install-ment of Quentin Tarantino’s four-hour tribute to blood, guts and swords, “Kill Bill.”  

“Kill Bill: Vol. 2”
Miramax Films
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen and Gordon Liu
Rated R

(out of four)

With “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” Quentin Tarantino reveals that the bag of tricks he used in his bloody film’s first installment is actually a bottomless pit of creativity and flair. The first volume of his tribute to gory, action-stuffed revenge movies was mainly eye candy, but the new film contains oodles of sharp drama with trademark Tarantino dialogue on top of all the action.

Tarantino has said that he didn’t change any of the film to split it into two pieces, but the two films work perfectly as separate entities. The only possible (albeit unlikely) flaw would be that the differing styles don’t all fit as one four-hour epic. The tone here shifts to a more introspective look at the post-modern violence, exploring the tumultuous lives of the spree killers who have populated the gore fests of lower pop culture. He even takes the care to use a new title design, recalling old film noir works. Both the hunted and the hunters now have a more tragic side to their cursed lives.

In terms of large-scale action, nothing could have matched the 100-against-one group battle that climaxed the first film, but this film defies expectations and doesn’t even try. While there are many virtuoso fight scenes, they all take place between two people, not 200.

The film takes place where the first one left off, but since this is Tarantino, much of it consists of flashbacks to before and during some of the events portrayed in the first film. Uma Thurman again plays The Bride, who woke up from a coma five years after her former boss, Bill, and his female killers in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, her former co-workers, crashed her wedding and killed everyone except her—despite a bullet in the head courtesy of Bill.

On her list, she now only has the patch-eyed Elle Driver, aka California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah), Bill himself and Bill’s brother, Budd, aka Sidewinder (Michael Madsen).

The flashbacks include a black-and-white sequence that takes place at the desert roadside chapel prior to the wedding massacre. Bill pays a visit, posing as the father of the bride. Tarantino augments the sinister presence of Bill, played by “Kung Fu” icon David Carradine, by making him a more human character. Not only can we see his face this time, but his conversations go beyond plotting.

Carradine and Madsen display a certain melancholy when Bill comes to see Budd. The life of killers called them, and they couldn’t refuse it. Budd now attempts a “normal” life, living in a trailer and half-assedly working a crappy strip-club job. He refuses to plan a retaliation with Bill because, he says, The Bride deserves her revenge, but this doesn’t stop him from fighting back when she comes to his door.

The claustrophobic nightmare that the attack on Budd triggers the film’s second major flashback. Like the first film, this one is separated into chapters, each with different stylistic flares and film stocks. The Bride trains under legendary martial artist Pei Mei (Gordon Liu), who, Bill says to The Bride while accompanying himself with a wooden flute, can make an enemy’s heart explode by pushing a series of pressure points.

Pei Mei’s skills humble The Bride—they’re so great that the camera has to zoom out a bit after each shot. Liu’s character enjoys insulting his stupid American student until she learns to show proper respect. Thurman, who brought constant energy and nuance to her character in Vol. 1, has the opportunity to display even more depth as she takes and gives beatings with the determination of a superhero.

The training sequence creates a direct contrast to the life The Bride tried to create through the failed wedding. One life is an exciting, dangerous challenge; the other represents safety and comfort with the price of boredom. The Bride re-engages in the former because the latter was unjustly taken from her.

With shots referencing everything from respected filmmakers like Ford and Godard to grind-house classics, Tarantino deconstructs the motives of the revenge-film hero with the humorous observation of his best work. It’s unclear whether The Bride can ever find true happiness, but she can continue to kill for the dream of justice and the simple life she never had.

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