Should I Watch..? 'Kill Bill: Volume 2'
What's the big deal?
Kill Bill: Volume 2 is an action martial arts film released in 2004 and was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The obvious sequel to Volume 1, the film depicts the continuing efforts of an unnamed assassin to get revenge on her former colleagues after they left her and her unborn baby for dead. The film stars Uma Thurman (who co-created the character of The Bride with Tarantino), David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and Gordon Liu. Filmed simultaneously with the first part and originally intended to be released together, the film is a homage to martial arts films and grind-house cinema, something Tarantino later tackled head-on with his friend Robert Rodriguez in the double feature Grindhouse. Like the first film, this received a warm response from critics and it would go on to earn $152 million worldwide which was slightly down on the first film.
What's it about?
Four years ago, a young and pregnant unnamed woman (known as the Bride) is holding a rehearsal for her forthcoming wedding in a small chapel. But without warning, her former colleagues in the murderous Deadly Viper Assassination Squad - led by the Bride's former lover Bill - arrive and brutally murder everyone present. Bill himself then shoots the Bride in the head before leaving her to die. However, she survives and wakes up in a hospital, swearing revenge on Bill and the other Vipers.
Having already dispatched two of her colleagues, she tracks down Bill's brother Budd to a trailer park in the hope of locating the surviving members of the Vipers. Hoping to ambush Budd, the Bride approaches with caution and relies on all of her martial arts training at the hands of master Pai Mei to give her an advantage. But Budd knows that the Bride is coming...
The Bride (Black Mamba)
Bill (Snake Charmer)
O-Ren Ishii (Cottonmouth)
Vivica A. Fox
Vernita Green (Copperhead)
Elle Driver (California Mountain Snake)
Release Date (UK)
23rd April, 2004
Action, Drama, Thriller
What's to like?
As enjoyable and as violent as the first film was, I actually prefer this one. Volume 2 spends more time detailing the characters and the narrative instead of supplying highly-stylised action scenes, although this film still has plenty for the gore-hounds to savour. I enjoyed learning about the Bride's training under Pai Mei, the source of the rivalry between the Bride and Elle Driver (a show-stealing performance from Daryl Hannah) and the complicated relationship between the Bride and Bill. As well choreographed as the action is, I needed context and backstory to complete it and thankfully, this film provides both.
Thurman is simply magnetic as the Bride, an action heroine who isn't afraid to show emotion and compassion instead of being just being a robot. But Carradine serves as a decent foil to her, reminding us all of his days in the lead role of Seventies TV series Kung Fu as well as countless other martial arts adventures. His softly spoken villain is a sharp contrast to the film's bloody and brutal action sequences. Tarantino has done an excellent job of reinforcing the film's ties to classic martial arts films like Fist Of Fury and works hard to retain a B-movie feel in an A-lister epic. Take the use of the mythical Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique which is as fantastically contrived and as hokey as you'd expect from a film of this sort.
- Thurman and Hannah developed a strong dislike of each other during the shoot, to the point where they were kept separate during publicity tours for the film and even had separate areas at the after-party at the Cannes Film Festival. When their clash won Best Fight Award at the 2005 MTV Awards, only Hannah attended to collect the award.
- The character Pai Mei is based on that on Pak Mei, a figure in Chinese folklore who was one of the last Masters who sold out his fellow Masters in order to try and protect himself and his team. As a result, he is regarded as a villainous figure and his Pak Mei Kung Fu has always been known as 'the forbidden technique'.
- Gordon Liu, who plays Pai Mei in this film, also appeared in the first film as one of the members of the Crazy 88. The same is also true of Michael Parks who plays pimp Esteban Vihaio here but played Ranger Earl McGraw in Volume 1. Incidentally, McGraw also appeared in From Dusk Till Dawn and go on to appear to both parts of the film Grindhouse.
What's not to like?
Unlike the first film, this second part feels a little slow in places due to the expanded backstories revealed and the increased amounts of dialogue. And while the action scenes are still great, they are much less frequent than they are in the first film which might put fans of the first film off. Volume 2 also doesn't quite feel right - compare the film's style and tone to a martial arts epic from the East, say Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is a beauty and majesty to Asian cinema that is hard to replicate anywhere else and sure enough, Tarantino's film lacks much of the aesthetic appeal to these films. His action is more visceral and full-on instead of the unmatched athleticism and grace seen in films like Hero or House Of Flying Daggers.
Other than an ending which felt a little weak in my opinion, Volume 2 feels like a more nuanced version of Volume One - a movie that just about reins in the blood and guts of the first film and mops it up with exposition and flashbacks. Granted, it won't be to everybody's taste (especially fans of the first film who doubtless will be expecting more of the same) and watching the first film is essential before sitting down to watch this. But personally, I'd rate this second film over the first although it is possible to see both together. Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair is a boxed set containing both films so they can be watched together as originally intended. Just go to the toilet first as it's a long four hours...
Should I watch it?
Undoubtedly one of Tarantino's most stylised and violent films, Kill Bill: Volume 2 is every bit as fulfilling as fans of the first film might wish for. It's less frenetic, more deep and more digestible than the first film. Together with the first film, Kill Bill is as encompassing a tribute to martial arts film as you'd expect from a director like Tarantino but ultimately, that is the film's problem - it feels like a tribute and not the genuine article which is a shame.
Great For: viewers interested in Asian cinema, fans of the first film, patient action fans
Not So Great For: the squeamish, the hard-of-hearing (Carradine & Madsen can be a little too softly spoken), anyone who hasn't seen the first film, under 18's
What else should I watch?
For me, nobody produces martial arts film quite like those who regularly practise them. Indeed, Asian cinema was almost exclusively martial arts films for a long time due to the kung fu craze in the 1970's. Fist Of Fury and Enter The Dragon are two Bruce Lee films that underscore just how phenomenal he was at the business of chopping bad guys in the neck with his untimely passing in 1973 leading to a slew of films cashing in on his name and image. Even today, wuxia pictures (films that deal with ancient Chinese martial artists) are still big business after the success of Crouching Tiger. Director Zhang Yimou had massive hits with House Of Flying Daggers and Curse Of The Golden Flower but it's Hero that brought him international fame and success.
Tarantino continues to deliver films that imitate the style or other genres, adapting his films to fit into genres as diverse as war, westerns and horror but still retaining a B-movie charm. While none of his films has been as critically lauded as Pulp Fiction (which, if we're honest,is a tough act to follow for any director), he has found himself becoming increasingly successful at the box office as his movies become less indie. Revisionist western Django Unchained remains his most successful film to date with takings in excess of $162 million while Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has only just been released to critical acclaim so it remains to see how well it performs.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox