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Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 2

Note: Minor spoilers for Kill Bill Vol. 1 herein. Also, the comments to this post are not spoiler-free, so, like, caveat emptor, and whatever.

Kill Bill is a fantastic movie. I'm not speaking here of Volume 1 or Volume 2, or even the two films watched back-to-back. No, I speak here of the mythical, single-movie Kill Bill that director Quentin Tarantino first set out to make, before it was decided to rive the film into two. I am certain that that movie, despite the fact that it does not and may never exist, is wonderful, with a sum much greater than it's parts.

Not that the parts are bad. Indeed, I loved Kill Bill Vol. 1 in spite of myself. And I'm please to report that Kill Bill Vol. 2 is also quite good. But my enjoyment of the second half was somewhat diminished by my wish that the whole kit and caboodle had been one three-and-a-half hour motion picture.

The problem, to my mind, is one of packaging. In splitting the movie into two they had to make each a self-contained unit, and he did so by putting almost all of the exposition into one movie and almost all of the action into another. Of course, as we all learned in ninth-grade English class, exposition goes at the start of a story, which exactly where Tarantino puts it; But then, having never been a slave to linear chronology, he goes on to put the beginning of the story in the second movie. Here we learn the history of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the background to the wedding-turned-massacre, and where The Bride learned to kick so much ass. In other words, we learn everything that puts the events of the first film in context.

But, see, here's the thing -- I liked Kill Bill Vol 1. plenty despite the lack of context -- because of it, even. For a revenge fantasy to succeed, all you really need is a wronged hero(ine) and a roster of baddies for the protagonist to work over. And this goes double for a film as action-packed as Volume 1. While I left the theater curious about the backstory, I honestly didn't expect Tarantino to devote two-thirds of the sequel to explication -- especially insofar as The Bride only tacked two of her adversaries in the first film and had three left on her list, leaving me to believe that the second would have even more mayhem than first.

So maybe I'm (again) a victim of false expectations, but I couldn't help but feel that Kill Bill Vol. 2, while a fine film in it's own right, was something of a letdown in comparison to it's predecessor. I entered the theater wondering "how on Earth is Tarantino going to top the epic fight between The Bride and O-Ren?" and only realized 90 minutes in that he wasn't going to try. It's a bit of a bummer of have the climax of a two-film series come before the middle mark.

Curiously, even though much of Vol 2 is spent providing answers, I came away from this film with even more questions than I did after the first one. While O-Ren's biography was exhaustively sketched out, we really don't learn anything about the background of Budd or Elle Driver in this one For every loose end this installment ties up, it merrily unravels two others. By meticulously detailing some aspects of the backstory, the film inadvertently calls attention to those that go completely unexplained. I rather preferred the first film's "comic book mentality," where Uma could wield a samurai sword and will her paralyzed feet to move simply because she could, end of story.

I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it seems to me that if the two movies had been merged, the chapters shuffled around a bit, and an hour excised from the whole shebang, Kill Bill would have been a masterpiece. Instead, we got two pretty good movies. Some might argue that two is better than one no matter who you slice it, but, personally, I'll take the former over the latter any day.

Posted on May 06, 2004 to Movies


Warning: Spoilers below.

One big question I came away wondering about Kill Bill Vol. 2 was: why did they bother bleeping out The Bride's name for the first three-fourths opf the story if they were then going to use it willy-nilly in the finale? Was there some momentous event that I missed the significance of that suddenly made her name un-taboo?

Posted by: Matthew on May 6, 2004 3:24 PM

Well, when doing press for the film, QT bandied about the possibility of a Volume 3. I believe that's where he intends to provide the missing pieces.

I enjoyed both films on completely different levels, and am looking forward to having them both on DVD to play with.

Posted by: Stacey on May 6, 2004 3:36 PM

I didn't know they were originally meant to be one movie....

That said, I left Volume 2 feeling like I *finally* got touched by the Quentin Phenomenon. I mean, I always thought he was good, but he never told a story that got to me the way this one did.

....Now that I know he meant them to be one movie, well... I wouldn't put it past Q to eventually *make* that joined movie - You know, in the Super Special Edition Director's Original Vision DVD release.

Either way, I loved the story, and will be buying the DVD.

Posted by: Jentle on May 6, 2004 4:10 PM

See, I thought about the same thing when I first watched KBV2. I was reminded of the Elvis Presley song, "A little less conversation, a little more action please". But then I got to thinking about it. Tarantino's really not an action director. That fight with O-Ren at the end of V1 was really his first action sequence. And while it was a doozy, it isn't really what Tarantino specializes in. What he really does well is what we see in V2. The dialogue. The quirky characters. The homages to probably hundreds of other movies. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked V2 on its own without the need to try to outdo V1's action sequences. In fact, I think you hit on the point exactly. How COULD he top the fight at the end of V1? He really couldn't. So he didn't even bother to try.

In fact, I think I prefer the movies split in two rather than combined. If you combined the movies as-is (which would be the way Tarantino combined them...he didn't move pieces around after they were split. The order of the film is exactly how he planned it), then you'd be left with a movie that's half action, then slows way down. As it is, the second movie is constantly building tension, rather than releasing it. It works better on its own.

At least, that's my take.

Posted by: Sam on May 6, 2004 4:13 PM

Oh, and the bleeping of the bride's name was just a gimmick. I think there was another movie that did something similar a long time ago, and QT is just paying homage to it. I think every scene in that movie probably has at least 3 homages in it. To paraphrase another reviewer, "QT pays homage to all the movies he's ever liked. Unfortunately, he likes every movie he's ever seen". heh

Posted by: Sam on May 6, 2004 4:15 PM

In fact, I think I prefer the movies split in two rather than combined. If you combined the movies as-is (which would be the way Tarantino combined them...he didn't move pieces around after they were split. The order of the film is exactly how he planned it), then you'd be left with a movie that's half action, then slows way down. .

Maybe the problem, then, is that I essentially combined the movies as-is, having watched Kill Bill Vol 1 a few days before seeing the second.

I'm surprised to hear that this is how the "one long movie" would have been ordered. I assumed they packaged all the action into the first movie as an incentive to the audiences to go see the second one.

Posted by: Matthew on May 6, 2004 4:18 PM

I watched Vol. 1 right before seeing Vol. 2 and I liked 2 much better. It felt like more of a love story. I could see why the Bride would go for a much older man like Bill.
I too have heard about a Vol. 3 telling the story of Nikki the daughter who sees her mother dead at the Bride's hand. I've heard that he would tape it soon so he could use the same little girl for flashbacks. Mebee just wishfull thinking on someone's part but that is what I heard.

Posted by: Alli on May 6, 2004 4:30 PM

Truth be told, Tarantino barely moved anything in order to make two separate films. The way you saw it is pretty much how he intended it. And personally I think how he constructed the film is just brilliant. First you show how far the Bride was willing to go in order for revenge, and then you show the audience what is really at stake. In the first half you are completely against Bill and then suddenly things turn around and Bill isn't that bad. It adds some much needed complexity to a simple genre.

Also, there is some exposition in Vol. 1. Really the exposition is layered into both films like the layers of an onion. Part of Tarantino's trademark of disjointed narrative is to incorporate exposition into the story instead of just having it to explain the story.

I don't know about you, but the Bride's fight with Elle is just as brutal, if not more so, as anything in the House of Blue Leaves.

It will also please you to know that Tarantino does plan to put out Kill Bill as a single film for a small art house release. Keep your eyes open for dates and times.

Posted by: Ben on May 6, 2004 4:43 PM

Rumor has it that Tarantino will be showing the asian cut of the combined film at Cannes (in the next few weeks). The asian cut of the film is all color instead of switching to black and white for the battle in the first movie. It's a trick he stole from old kung fu movies that couldn't get past the censors in the U.S.

I'm sure that this version of the film will eventually make it out on dvd for all you fans out there.

Posted by: Cambo on May 6, 2004 11:01 PM

I think your need to know more about Budd or Elle Driver is satisfied: Budd is the classic "little brother" and Michael Madsen is magnificent in the 'Take of your hat' scene - tells much more that I was wait by myself.
Elle Driver is the predecessor of The Bride but missed the way: at Pai Mei's training camp and presumably in Bill's bed. You know: the jealousy and anger of the desolated lover.

This is my opinion. :)

Posted by: PsycloneJack on May 7, 2004 12:35 AM

Both excellent movies in their own right, but I don't think I'd be able to naintain the energy to sit through a four-hour version. Imagine the excitement of the battle with O-Ren followed by the 45-minute detailed exposition and back history of the bloody even that got the whole thing going. Snore... Time to make more popcorn.

Don't get me wrong. The wedding was a fantastic way to start off Vol.2, but the two films are so very different in tone that I cannot see how they could be melded and still have the same awesome affect they have separately.

Posted by: Snobby on May 7, 2004 6:05 AM

One Omage which most won't cathe was the charachter of Pi Mei.

He was(basically)the ancient Kung Fu Elder Bak Mei. They called Bak Mei 'White Eybrow" because he was crazy old, and had long white hair and bushy eybrows. He was also a NASTY Kung Fu Stylist.

His style is looking to do something F'd up like snatch out your eye. He would also be happy ripping skin and or muscle off your forearm or under your armpit. The Idea was that he was old, he couldn't get in a drawn out fight with young men. So he made his style real short, compact, and if he got you(even if he didn't really hurt you so much), he would remove a peice of you. An ear, skin, something like that), that the enemy would freak out...

Posted by: Wedge on May 7, 2004 7:47 AM

In Austin, they had a theater that ran the two movies back to back on the opening weekend. I did that with friends, and it's more satisfying to have the whole thing laid out end to end, but at 4+ hours it feels kinda bloated. I do hope the combined cut that QT is going to roll out at Cannes does get a theatrical release, or make a special edition DVD set.

The only other thought I had about the experience was that I am really disappointed in Harvey and Miramax. When did they lose their balls, that they didn't think the movie would sell as a 3+ hour feature? I mean the geeks packed em in for the LotR trilogy, and it's fair to point out that LotR had an established audience. But still, let's be honest: QT has an established audience also. I think if they had done a full cut, it would have done better than the separate volumes combined.

Posted by: Enrique on May 7, 2004 7:53 AM

I too watched KB1 on DVD a few days before viewing KB2 in the theatre. Definitely agree that I couldn't have sat thru 3+ hours of a single film. I also agree that they are totally different films. Of course, immediately after watching KB2, I went back and REWATCHED KB1 on video again. The entire film had many new levels of nuances, right from the opening scene, like when Bill calls The Bride "Kiddo." I'd truly like to see a joined film, but just as much, I'd like watching them both back to back with a nice potty break in-between.

Posted by: dunsany on May 7, 2004 10:22 AM

I wouldn't put too much stock in rumors about Tarantino movies. Remember after Pulp Fiction when the big rumor was of a movie just about Vincent Vega? I think all the stuff about an animated prequel telling Bill's story, or a sequel with the little girl taking revenge are just things that Tarantino says because he has WAY more ideas than he can fit into any amount of movies. So he says these things just to give people some idea of what else could happen in his little worlds.

Having said that, the latest rumor I've heard regarding the DVD release is that we'll get a Vol 2 DVD in a few months, and then near the holiday season there will be Special Edition releases of both Vol 1 and Vol 2 (packaged together and/or separately), and then possibly down the road a "Tarantino Collection" release. Although whether that's a separate version of the film, or just boxing up Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Jackie Brown together, I have no idea. If any of this is even remotely true. Hell, I'd buy it if they released a collection like that.

Posted by: Sam on May 7, 2004 12:53 PM

One homage which most won't catch was the character of Pai Mei.

He was also played by Gordon Liu (Liu Jia-hui), who was the young monk in the film that basically invented the "bad-ass kung fu training" trope, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. (Although I've read Liu, who also appeared in Vol. 1 as the head of the Crazy 88s, was a last minute replacement.)

I'm not nearly familiar enough with Shaw Brothers movies to follow the immense number of allusions Tarantino was throwing up on the screen, but that one struck me as particularly clever, even if it's not what he originally intended.

Posted by: Steve on May 16, 2004 4:06 PM