Foremost, let me say that I really enjoyed the first installment of this, the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino.
For those of you not in the know, this movie is a continuation of, not a sequel to the first volume delivered last year: Kill Bill v.1.
Now the first film, and you can find many sites which will explain this in further detail, was a hyper-gory, hyper-stylized, samurai sword bloodfest. Fewer heads rolled in the Reign of Terror. I walked in expecting to see sword-point impalings, decapitation, defenestration, and other sorts of mayhem.
The movie starts off quite differently though. The opening scene is the star, Uma Thurman, driving a convertible down the road with a film screen displaying ‘road footage’ behind her.
ASIDE: We, knowing the director’s love of peeling back magic of his craft might have > expected to see a pan out to show the crew members rocking chassis to give the > car that not-quite-real car driving down the road feel.
Uma’s character, the Bride, in lustrous, silv’ry black and white gives a brief recap of her actions (taking out two assassins who betrayed her) and reminds us that she has two more assassins to go before taking out her nemesis: Bill.
This filming tells us, as do the intro credits, that this won’t be chop-socky fare, no, this installment is film noir and it revels in those elements (you’ll recall that KBv1 opened with a gong clang and fonts appropriate to grindhouse kung-fu tales). Instead of fists of fury, we are on a trip with a woman jilted. Instead of knife fights, we’re going to see emotional knives turned deeper. We could almost expect the spirit of Mickey Spillane to reappear at several times in the film.
The exposition following the driving scene seems slow and, to be honest, was a bit boring - it describes leading up to the shootout at the El Paso Wedding Chapel that put our heroine into a coma.
I think that had the film been presented as QT cut it (i.e. one big-ass film) this meditative exposition would have given the audience more time to unwind after the climactic samurai’s duel that finished the first film.
Nonetheless, we soon find ourselves tracking the Bride’s next target, Budd, played by the eternally squinty (and fiercely so) Michael Madsen. Budd takes that classic attitude of “A samurai sword ain’t dick against a double barreled shotgun” (frequently espoused by a pre-pubescent-NRA sympathizer amongst my friends as we watched Channel 39’s KUNG-FU theatre on Saturday mornings) and thus presents an interesting change of nemesis. Where as the first two slain assassins were kung-fu-istas Budd is packing the heavy firearms. Besides, we’re a bit saturated (bored) with respect to swordfighting after Uma slashed her way through Yuen Wo-Ping’s team at the end of the first movie.
Budd’s character comes halfway through the film and lives in a middle-of-nowhere desert town in California. It is appropriate that the mental mettle of the Bride is put to a test as the first film displayed the extraordinary calibre of her metal.
Not to go too Joseph Campbell here, but the Bride retreats into Campbell’s “Cave”, she’s retreating into the unconscious and, after all the killing, is asked to decide if she will go on with her quest, how will this change her, and what is she willing to sacrifice for vengeance. Tarantino, such a corporeally-bound, bloody, fleshy director invites us into a spiritual realm. Are we surprised that the language Tarantino describes this place with is the language of Kung-Fu Special double-feature? Not at all: we see the Bride learn the martial arts in the middle of China from an ancient, beard-stroking, acid-tongued, badass upon a misty, hidden mountain.
Her resolve tested, the Bride rises up from her earthly baptism and re-enters the physical. She proceeds to clear the way to Bill (played superbly by David Carradine).
Carradine is Mexicali cool and chic in his leather jacket, jeans, and bare feet. His gravelly voice seduces and charms (The Snake Charmer is his alias). His manner, focus, and quiet intensity makes it clear why so many deadly viper assassins have let their guard down to him. His hypnotic tone also reminds us that a snake charmer’s relationship with his pet requires that he be able and willing to kill it at a moment’s notice. The mutual respect of each others lethal nature suffuses the dialog between Carradine and Thurman.
The perfect scene to display this is Bill playing a Chinese flute whilst recounting a tale about the day a master was not paid due respect by a monk. Between the crackling fire, Bill’s flute, Carradine’s voice, and Thurman’s smile, we too are beguiled and amazed. So much that we, like a viper to the charmer, might even forget that we too musn’t forget that we must be willing to kill the charmer.
But I said this film was more noir genre, and that is true. The romantic history between Bill and Bride animates their dialog and define the performance. We cannot forget that the film for all its wire-team kung-fu is a noir film: Woman got done wrong (bad) by her man. Seeing the Bride work her way to her goals is satisfying, entertaining and fun.
Fortunately, QT underplayed his QT-ness in a display of maturity. The pop culture synthesis (yadda * 3) were there, but not in the contrived “hey aren’t I clever” mode - no they were more earnest, more honest, and more effective. There is a great existential exposition about Superman versus the rest of all the comic book heroes. I won’t give away the surprise, but it’s no less Sartre than comics.
Quick statement: Thurman has one of the best waist-hip ratios in the world.
But the violence is so much less in this film that those planning on seeing the blood bellows pump will be disappointed. I can’t help but feeling that this is deliberate, in the context of the completed 4-hour opus we don’t have a gore-fest, we have more physically violent enemies (Lucy Liu’s army) and then we have colder, more psychological killers (the second film). This dichotomy opens up questions about who the greater warrior is (s)he who fells many, or (s)he who fells well.
In any case, I think the two, assembled as one, make for a fine psychological exploration of the warrior spirit (à la Kurosawa) minus the Shakespearean classicism plus pop art. I really look forward to the dual DVD release pair.
After seeing the film, P-Dizzle and I hunted for my car (I arrived in great haste and forgot the lot sign) and then visited his new place up in Menlo Park. It’s a nice place and his skill at industrial art projects is filling blank spots steadily.
I got home and spent this morning lying in bed finishing off the third (and final) installation in the His Dark Materials series: The Amber Spyglass. I’ll probably write more about it later.