“And she’s not Kiddo-ing…”
Let’s be blunt: Kill Bill would probably have been a better movie, if the Weinsteins had told Tarantino, “No: you can not cut this into two – you’re going to have to edit it down like every other director.” The second section of the film is notably less strong than the first, its 135 minutes containing too much stuff which a better, less self-indulgent moviemaker would realise was superfluous and chop out.
Precisely what, I’ll get to in a minute. But I also have to say that when this film works, it does so extremely well, with moments – and a good number of more lengthy sequences – that are just about perfect. We learn why Elle Driver (Hannah) has only one eye; the relationship between Budd (Madsen) and Bill (Carradine); the reason the Bride quit her life as an international jet-setting killer; and how the Crazy 88’s didn’t actually have 88 members. All these elements are dealt with swiftly and efficiently, plugged in like jigsaw pieces in their correct place, so it’s not as if Tarantino can’t do the right thing.
The film is at its best in the middle, from when Beatrix Kiddo (Thurmann – her character’s name is revealed, making the bleeping-out in the first part seem like nothing more than a childish prank at the audience’s expense) takes a shotgun blast to the chest from Budd, on through a flashback to a training sequence with a kung-fu master (the wonderful Gordon Liu), Beatrix’s ‘resurrection’ and up to and including a brawl with Elle that is probably the most brutal woman-woman combat ever filmed by Hollywood.
But this is not the action-fest of part one; and more’s the pity, I would say. In fact, the Bride only actually kills one person in this film [since we go in expecting her to dispose of Budd, Elle and Bill, this should whet your appetite more than it counts as a spoiler] Save her fight with Elle, there is nothing that comes within a mile of the House of Blue Leaves battle which ended the first movie. This renders the two together as possessing an uneven tone, since that massacre is the climax of the combined stories told in Kill Bill 1+2, on just about every level of cinema. Tarantino would have been better off getting his spaghetti Western influences out there before the kung-fu ones.
Tarantino’s lust for rubbing chunks of pop culture in our face rears its ugly head early on, with Bill playing a flute, just as Carradine did in his Kung Fu days. It’s a pointless anachronism, which doesn’t fit the character, and is topped only at the end when Bill rambles on, pontificating about the symbolism of Superman and how it relates to Beatrix. I can see the lines spewing forth from Quentin’s smug mouth, or even Kevin Smith’s; coming out of Bill’s, they seem absurdly forced and artificial.
But when Tarantino just nods to other movies, rather than waving them in the air and shouting “Look at me! Amn’t I clever?”, it works – sometimes sublimely. Beatrix professes her love to Bill, saying she’d ride a motorcycle onto a speeding train for him, likely a reference to Michelle Yeoh’s amazing stunt in Supercop. It succeeds, because it’s such an effective image, you don’t need to know the details; if you do, it merely lends them extra resonance. Similarly, at the end, when Beatrix and her daughter are re-united, the latter wants to watch Shogun Assassin; her father demurs…because it’s “too long”. [If you don’t get that joke, Shogun was one of the most arterial movies ever released…up until KB 1, anyway]
Unfortunately, Tarantino then subjects us to lengthy footage of mom and little girl watching the film, another pointless indulgence. But generally, it’s when characters open their mouths that the film hits trouble; there’s hardly two lines of dialogue which could not be, and probably should have been, compacted into one. Whole scenes cry for removal, such as Budd’s day job, which tells us nothing about him that his habit of drinking from jars doesn’t say, more efficiently and cinematically. And if I wanted to learn the precise volume of Black Mamba venom injected per bite, I’d tune to the Discovery Channel.
The deluxe box set, with both movies and a host of extra footage is, undoubtedly inevitable, which is why I haven’t bothered with the initial release of Volume 1, and nor will I bother with Volume 2. When it arrives, I will be sorely tempted to take everything and produce a proper edit, running two hours or less, which will have everything we need and none of the dreck. Instead, for the moment, you have one extremely good film and one pretty good film. Under normal circumstances, I’d take that from Hollywood in a heartbeat. But when, with a little care, this could have been the finest action heroine movie of all time, I must admit to a little disappointment.
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen