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The International Writers Magazine
: Dan Schnieder reviews Kill Bill Vol 2

Lost (& Violent) Weekend
Dan Schneider

A week from last Saturday was a day of violence in my home. In the early afternoon my wife & I caught a matinee of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 2., & in the evening I watched the DVD of Heat- Michael Mann’s 1995 crime extravaganza. Unfortunately, both films were underwhelming- not only as works of art but as, well, action films.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2 Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Last October I saw KB1 with friends. It was merely 90 minutes of straightforward mindless comic book violence. Here’s the whole film: A bride (Uma Thurman) & her wedding entourage, are gunned down at the Two Pines Wedding Chapel in El Paso. Texas. Only the Bride survives- after 4 years of being comatose, and made an unconscious prostitute for a sleazy orderly/pimp- to wake up, kick ass, escape from the hospital, and begin her vengeance against the man behind the massacre- her former lover, Bill (David Carradine). Before she can get to Bill she must dispose of his 4 assassins (an elite band of killers, which she was the 5th wheel of, called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad).
First up is Vernita Green (Vivica Fox). She murders her in front of her daughter. Next up is O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu)- the Chinese head of a Japanese Yakuza crime family. After disposing of dozens of her henchmen- the Crazy 88s, & her psychotic female #2, O-Ren’s teenage bodyguard Go-Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), it is Ishii’s turn to die at the Bride’s hand. End of Volume 1, save for the teaser that while in coma the Bride gave birth to her & Bill’s daughter, whom he is raising.

No, this was not a deep film, but a virtuoso stylistic triumph over content- visually arresting enough to get a 90 out of 100 from me, even though I chafe at action plots where the slinky female leads can easily manhandle dozens of burly men. I mean, I’m 6’1”, 190 lbs. & no Schwarzenegger, but - save for the lucky kick in the jewels - bet on me 99 times out of a 100 to whip Jennifer Garner’s sexy little ass! But KB1 was so over the top and comic book that it did not matter.

Despite what many have said about KB2 being better, it’s not. It’s an ok film that narratively stands on its own, but shows the utter superfluity of KB1, which could have had its backstory sliced to a 6 or 7 minute prologue. KB2 opens with the Bride ready to take on Bill’s own baby brother - the 3rd member of the Assassins, Budd (Michael Madsen). After stalking him to his trailer home he blows her away with a buckshot of salt. Why he does not kill her with regular bullets is a silly question since this is comic book logic. Additionally, he offers to turn over the Bride’s body to Bill’s last assassin for $1 million. She’s another blonde killer femme, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), who is missing an eye and wears a patch.
Cue classic 1930s serial film villain stupidity: Budd buries the Bride alive. He even gives her a flashlight in her nailed coffin. Flashback: to her training under misogynistic Chinese Kung Fu master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu).

This is needless digression because the stereotyped character- similar to KB1’s involving the Bride’s training with master swordmaker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) - adds nothing to the tale that could not have been added in a few casual throwaway references in the script.

Of course, the Bride escapes, heads back to the trailer to finish Budd off, but Elle gets to him first. After telling Elle the grave he buried the Bride he opens up the suitcase of bills and is bitten repeatedly by a deadly black mamba snake. He dies, Elle recoups her money, heads out the door to go finish off the Bride, but she’s waiting for Elle, and the two women trash the trailer until she plucks out Elle’s remaining good eye (Flashback: Pai Mei had plucked out the other eye and she avenged that by poisoning the old Master), leaves her writhing in agony, and squashies the eye beneath her soiled soles.

She takes off to kill Bill, only to waste time with a Mexican pimp.
Upon finding Bill she discovers her daughter (Perla Honey-Jardine) with him.
Then the film drags because Tarantino, after giving us over 3 hours of mindless violence and shallow characters, wants us to empathize with his cardboard cutouts. Uma Thurman’s Bride’s maternal instincts seem forced, and her hyped showdown with her tormenter bores. Yes, there is a good exchange where Bill gets in a riff on how Superman is the only comic book character whose alter-ego is not his superhero side, and this gives us his real view on humanity, BUT all he does with this salience is try to cast the Bride, whose name we learn is Beatrix Kiddo, as a killer whose alter-ego is Beatrix. Cue banalities and exposition on how hurt Bill was over Beatrix leaving him when she found out she was pregnant.

Then the showdown- but it’s tremendously underwhelming as the audience does not care for the characters as much as the director does, and when she finishes off the seemingly mythic Bill with a mere flick of the wrist- a 5-finger heart punch Pai Mei taught her - the audience is left thinking they missed the big brouhaha that was promised. Cue forced reminiscences until the killer punch takes effect, and Beatrix goes to bond with her daughter.

The film’s problems are manifest. Trying to take comic book characters operatic does not work. The film was hyped as the ultimate Revenge Film - but in order for a Revenge tale to work the audience must care for the wronged character. Since Beatrix is a cartoon impervious to real harm we know she’s in no danger, thus feel no empathy.

Compare this to Steven Soderbergh’s masterful The Limey, wherein the audience is intimately involved with the avenger’s thoughts from before the first image of the film plays. There we want the Limey to get his vengeance, we understand his motivation and even sympathize. We don’t with Beatrix because she’s not real and Uma Thurman is an so-so actress. Length is also a big problem. The two films run 226 minutes, or just a quarter hour shy of 4 hours. They were originally to be a single entity but, having had so few films from Tarantino over the years his company wanted to double the bang for the buck. Thus the mishmash editing. Individual scenes are expertly paced and woven, but there are just reams of scenes that do not advance the essential shark-like plot. This is not just taste speaking- too many scenes with trivial but wannabe colorful characters grind the film to a snail’s pace.

Trim the 90 minutes of KB1 down to 20 or 30 minutes of action, trim the 136 minutes of the plodding KB2 in half & you would’ve had a very good 90-100 minute film with all the excellent action and revelatory scenes intact. The KB films are a triumph of box office greed and marketing over potentially good art (-cum-self-indulgent pointlessness). Another thing gained by making the films one would be that the teaser at the end of KB1, where we find out Beatrix has a daughter, could be cut and that revelation unfold to both character and audience when she actually confronts Bill. Not that the emotion would have overwhelmed, but knowing this fact about Beatrix before she does castrates whatever empathy we might feel for her near the film’s climax.

That Tarantino did not see these points, or did but gave in to them, seems to support my belief that he has yet to show the maturity of a great director. He seemed to be going in the right direction with Jackie Brown (easily his best & most mature film) but has regressed with the two Kill Bills. Of KB2 I’d grade it 65 of 100, & for the duo of films I’d give it a 75. I hope I’m wrong, but he seems destined, and satisfied, to be merely an A director of B films.
© Dan Schneider May 2004

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