recap our story from last fall, heres a quick flashback
It ended with a darkened screen and David Carradines craggy, creepy voiceover: "Does she know that her daughter is still alive?" Together, audiences around the world held a single thought foremost in their minds: "WTF?!" Thus, Kill Billthe kung fu action movie cleaved in half by its maker in a fit of creative hubrisunleashed one of the great cop-out endings with "Vol. 1." Not since the height of Republic serials has so much action led to so little pay-off.
But Miramaxs slight to the audiencemaking them pay full price for literally half a moviewas barely noted in the furor over Vol. 1s graphic depictions of what happens when a samurai sword swings into someones neck. Long before the Guardians of All That is Decent had Janet Jacksons semi-naked breast to gleefully condemn, they attempted to whip up some national outrage over the fact that Quentin Tarantinos martial arts flick was actually violent. Despite the fact that this violence was (for the most part) ridiculously cartoonish, many film critics agreed with the Vanquishers of Depravity and rushed to moral judgment. (For example, heres the San Francisco Chronicles reasoned critique: "Let's just call it pornography. And let's just admit it's indefensible.")
Now, six months later
We finally have the last half of Kill Bill in theaters, and can answer all the cliffhanger questions of 2003not so much whether Uma Thurmans "Bride" will wreak her vengeance (guess what: she does!), but whether Vol. 2 would really be worth the wait. Was there so much imperative stuff in Kill Bill that it couldnt have possibly been edited down to single theatrical release? Do Volumes 1 and 2 stand on their own as great films? And is Kill Bill truly a sign of our societys imminent descent into Satans lascivious lap?
The answer is "yes," Vol. 2 is worth seeing but "no" on the other questions. Miramax couldve easily released a tightly edited (if long) Kill Bill last year that wouldve been a fine piece of entertainment without compromising Tarantinos vision (especially in this age of "directors cut" DVDs). The two halves dont stand alone since, well, one is the beginning of a movie and the other is the ending. And, finally, Kill Bill is no more a sign of the Apocalypse than a split-second glance of a pierced nipple. It is, however, a really good big-budget take on the traditional Hong Kong action movie.
For those who skipped Vol. 1, the story is a simple one: Kill Bills main character, former assassin the Bride, wants revenge on those who have done her wrong. At her wedding rehearsal in deepest Texas, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad slaughters all of her friends and her husband-to-be. She herself is left for dead by the groups leader, Bill (Carradine), who places a bullet into her head shortly after she tells him that shes carrying his baby. Four years later, she awakes from a coma and vows to take her vengeance. What follows is a cult-movie fans tribute to 70s karate movies, utilizing the actual actors, soundtrack music, and title cards, yet without the mockery of an out-and-out parody. Its mixmaster filmmaking, with Tarantino as a cinema DJ sampling forgotten treasures and putting his own spin on them.
No doubt about it, Kill Bill is trashbut its genuine trash. These days, Hollywood has usurped B-movie plots and "elevated" them with A-list talent. But the results are never satisfying. By attempting to transform exploitation flicks into "quality" multiplex films, studio executives have released an unending stream of joyless, pointless serial-killer movies starring Ashley Judd. The only objective of a trashy movie should be to entertain and surprise audiencesand no amount of meaningfulness contrived by art-house directors like Jane Campion will do the trick.
Tarantino, on the other hand, is in it only for the audience. "Art" is a label applied to his movies by critics or academics who have a hard time admitting that simple trash can be guiltlessly enjoyable. Sometimes a decapitation is just a decapitation, and thats the case with Kill BillTarantino only wants to wow viewers. This can be both good and bad. While all of the elements of Volumes 1 and 2 individually sparklethe anime interlude, the Brides yellow jumpsuit, the 5,6,7,8s, the resuscitation of David Carradinethe story itself doesnt quite hold things together. Perhaps its just because we were forced to watch Kill Bill in a divided state, but the Brides personal mission often doesnt seem as compelling as the characters she comes across along the way. I became less interested in whether she actually "kills Bill" than I was in what cult movie reference Tarantino would drop in next. For instance, Gordon Liu as the Brides martial arts master Pai Mei pretty much steals the show in Vol. 2 with his traditional kung fu movie performance and fanciful costumeI wanted to learn more about his character than Thurmans.
For fans of karate movies, thats but a quibble. Amazing action scenes, cool characters, and outrageous dialogue are the main requirements. As a whole, Kill Bill delivers those needs in abundance. But Im afraid that as a stand-alone film, Vol. 2 still feels lacking primarily, its first half. Heres looking forward to that special-edition DVD set.