By Rob Sherf
I remember a long time ago, about six months now, sitting in a theatre after the house lights had come up and being completely speechless for the first time in my life. The draw of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 was so powerful that it etched every scene into my mind verbatim, and even after six months and multiple viewings since that night, the movie just keeps getting better. Never had Hong Kong wire-fu or Japanese revenge fantasy been brought to American cinema so vividly, and certainly neither element had ever co-existed with Tarantino’s signature pacing or manic dialogue. The whole package seemed like the kind of perfect fit that was totally without peer–that is, I thought under those harsh house lights in that theatre, until Volume 2 is released.
Fishtailing wildly between shout-outs to The Vanishing, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and every other cinematic reference under the sun, Tarantino and Thurman–cutely referred to as Qïœ|U in the credits–waste no time diving right into the meat of Volume 2’s story.
The film opens with the real account of The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) bloody wedding, and in the film’s first five minutes we are treated to both a heatbreaking massacre and our formal introduction to the enigmatic Bill (played with zeal by a decrepit David Carradine). From there, you can look forward to a plucky globetrotting adventure with lots of kaeto masks and blood geysers.
Actually, you can’t.
It turns out, as I realized with glee while the opening credits were rolling, that Kill Bill was split up into two parts not as a marketing ploy, or a way to make twice the money on tickets, but because volumes 1 and 2 really are completely different movies. While the first film prided itself on swords and kung fu, the second is informed by cowboy hats and high noon showdowns.
Yes, the conclusion of the Kill Bill saga is told in sweet, sweet spaghetti western style, as Tarantino giddily channels Sergio Leone for his sweeping exterior panoramas and sweat-drenched mano a mano confrontations. There are definitely still some Hong Kong influences here, notably a lengthy parody-of-a-parody-of-a-parody of the training montages in old Hong Kong martial arts flicks, but Volume 2 is not the artery-popping thrill ride its predecessor was.
Instead, Tarantino has given us a dense and dusty character drama filled to the brim with loss, regret and innumerable tonnes of emotional weight, finally giving a third dimension to characters who, for all their overt badassness, seemed decidedly thin in the first film. When the final confrontation between Bill and The Bride comes, it’s not the expected balls-to-the-wall actiongasm. In fact, there’s hardly any blood spilled at all, and for some strange reason it doesn’t feel the least bit unsatisfying.
With Volume 2, Tarantino has succeeded in making the film that he seems to have been reaching toward for his entire career, finally building a bridge between ultra violence and human consequences. Tarantino’s very own tumbleweed opera stands not only among the best westerns ever made, but also among the best films this reviewer has ever seen.