So if you look back to my review of Kill Bill Vol.1 that I posted recently you’ll see that I enjoy the film’s mix of classic revenge motifs and extremely violent action. It’s a hard act to follow. Even if, technically, Vol.2 isn’t a sequel. The two films are meant to be seen as one entity. Some people take issue with Kill Bill Vol.2 because it doesn’t share the first film’s fast pace and levels of extreme violence. After the link I plan to tell you why expecting the same thing is where those people went wrong.
A good film has an ebb and a flow to it’s pacing. Dramatic peaks are offset by quieter periods. Tense moments are deflated by the breaking of tension to allow the viewer to relax. A great director can take you from an intense character interaction to a shot of some grass blowing in the wind and have it feel as natural breathing. Kill Bill Vol.1 was the intense introduction. Everything moved along with a high pace and it used it’s slower moments to focus on elements of The Bride (Uma Thurman) getting herself into her old fighting shape. When we reach Vol.2 The Bride is ready for the final 3 members of DiVAS that she has left on her kill list. If she were to race through these like she did her enemies in the first part then by the time she reached Bill you’d likely not feel the anticipation of the battle to come. Instead of rushing Tarantino realises that this film has to deal with something a lot more personal and potentially revenge plot destroying for The Bride, the fact that her daughter didn’t die when she was put into a coma for 4 years.
This leads the film to show us just how determined and tough The Bride is. Instead of waltzing up to her first target, Budd (Michael Madsen), and dispensing of him in style she ends up on the receiving end of a shotgun blast of rock salt, sedated and then buried alive. This forces her to recall her strenuous training at the hands of martial arts master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) and the art of the three inch punch that she’ll require to beat her way out of her grave. In the build up to her being buried we also see the first signs of The Bride being genuinely scared. Her human element begins to show through when she realises that her life really is in danger. Showing her more human side is required for the events at the end of the film where she is placed in a more personal and emotional situation than she has at any point up to now. The implementation of that training flashback sequence at that moment is also a story telling work of art. Tarantino is delivering to you the information you require as you need it.
Sure you could have told the story in Kill Bill in a linear fashion but how would that have helped? Would it have helped to have had the audience sit through The Bride’s various training scenes at the very beginning of Vol.1? No, it would not. We’re told from the start that she is a trained killer. All we needed to know at the start was that she was trained. How she was trained was irrelevant at that time. When trapped in a coffin The Bride is panicking and using up valuable air. The flashback acts as, not only, a sequence to inform us of her ability to punch her way free but to also act as the characters chance to centre herself. It’s a breather in the intense situation to help maintain a more measured flow. More so that Vol.1 this is the structure of Vol.2. The film breaths in and out with intense moments followed by character focused scenes with a metronomic frequency.
Now there will be a couple of spoilers for the films final scenes here so skip ahead a paragraph if you haven’t seen the film. … Still here? Good. Originally the film was to end with Bill (David Carradine) having a sword based duel on a beach with The Bride in her wedding dress. Due to the length and cost of the shoot Tarantino scaled this back to what ended up being a very personal and intimate finale for the hero and the villain. When The Bride arrives at her home she discovers, to her dumbfounded surprise, that her daughter is alive. She had always presumed that she had been lost in the shooting that kicked off this whole bloody affair. This is what the more human moments of her character’s portrayal in this chapter was leading to. She spends an evening being a mother to her child and learning that Bill hasn’t been entirely a bad father. He regrets what he did but understands what is going to happen and doesn’t plan on dying just yet. This leads to a long series of scenes gradually ramping the tension between the two characters as Bill explains what he has done and what he plans to do. Long winded Superman analogy aside, this sequence plays out as a lesson in the art of slow burning tension. Bill is prepared for The Bride and so the idea of a moonlit duel on the beach is thrown about but deemed inappropriate. Instead they sit down and talk, discussing the path they have both been on… until Bill makes his move, The Bride reacts and a few seconds later it is over. The tension is built and built. The characters shown to be more human that they had been depicted before now. And then it is over in a flash. Yet this sudden end to their feud isn’t weakened by an unsatisfying conclusion. The pay off is perfect and the emotion is raw. The Bride gets her happy ending that she has fought for over the two films. I will happily maintain that this is the way the two films needed to conclude. As The Bride got closer to her goal and the realities of her emotions for Bill came to the surface more and more, factored in with her sudden knowledge of motherhood, this intimate finale is what was required.
I do write some long paragraphs. I don’t think I could decide which of the two Kill Bill films is the greater. I like them both for entirely different reasons. The first is a fast paced love letter to revenge films and the Kung Fu genre. The second is, other than Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s most character focused work and one of his most well plotted out. Not to say it’s missing action scenes. The Bride’s first meeting with Pai Mei leads to a Kung Fu face off that’s full of Shaw Brothers and Yuen Woo Ping nods and the fight with Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in Budd’s camper van is one of the dirtiest fights you’ll ever see two women engage in without the aid of mud. Or jelly. I prefer mud. Both films play differently and both excel at their respective strengths. I know Tarantino has his Whole Bloody Affair cut of both film doing the rounds but I am honestly unsure how well the two would play back to back. To me there would be a sudden, and quite jarring, change of pace that would likely leave some audience members to reject this second part. It is that sudden change in tempo that is likely the reason some do. Those that do reject Vol.2 on those grounds are missing out on a well crafted example of good pacing and great cinematography. But as with many Tarantino films we end up comparing them to Pulp Fiction. Kill Bill Vol.2 falls short of that film’s greatness. But like Jackie Brown, it deserves to be praised for its own merits rather than ranked against another film’s.