Monday, April 12, 2021

CANON OF FILM: "KILL BILL: VOL. 2"

KILL BILL: VOL. 2 (2004)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, based on the character "The Bride" by Q&U


If "Kill Bill Vol. 1" was Tarantino's love letter to classic martial arts films, then "Kill Bill Vol. 2" is very much his love letter to the western genre. And to the martial arts film. They're not that different honestly, one basically influenced the other narratively, but the martial arts action films are about choreography, effects, blood. The whole appeal is the athleticism and you want that to be showcased, the western, is a more personal genre; it's tense and filled with long epic journeys that end not in long, extended brawls with several others, but often in one-on-one duels with one another's longtime arch enemy. It's about vengeance, revenge, and retribution which ultimately makes it the perfect genre to use as inspiration for "Vol. 2". 

We saw the Bride (Uma Thurman) kill literally dozens, perhaps a hundred people or so in "Vol.1," now here, she only has and succeeds at killing one. (Well, perhaps she killed two.) You don't need to have seen "Vol. 1"; to enjoy "Vol. 2", although it does help, despite the opening chapter of "Vol. 2" giving us more then enough explanation to catch up. That said, "Vol. 2" is the better film. It's sly in how it's better though. Tarantino for instance, played up O-Ren as a dangerous character in "Vol. !" , and yet, in "Vol. 2" completely downplayed Budd (Michael Madsen) as a serious threat for her, which is also what The Bride does which is how she ends up in her most precarious situation yet as she inexplicably falls right into his trap and gets buried alive. 

Of course, it's Tarantino's sick sense of humor to then give us the one last nod to the martial arts genre, by showing The Bride gets beat the hell up all the time by Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, who also played one of O-Ren's top associates in "Vol. 1") I think arguably, that sequence is the most important of all the chapters, 'cause it answers so much, and yet, sets up everything that comes after. It's the first time, we really get to meet Bill (David Carradine) and really see the full scope of his relationship with The Bride; we had met him, finally, onscreen, at the beginning of the movie where we get the intense explanation of what exactly happened at that wedding chapel, but it shows us how she's managed to do everything she's done up to this point, as well as get our hero to literally punch her way out of the obstacle that she can't get out of. All these things are difficult to do in writing, separately, especially for a film, but doing it all together, in a more novel structure, is really special. While it's easy to focus on stylized directing in Tarantino's films, especially his more Leone-esque takes and ideas in "Kill Bill Vol. 2", and this is arguably his best directed film, I think the writing is what really puts Tarantino apart. I talked about this is my Canon entry on "Kill Bill Vol. 1"   but perhaps it needs to be emphasized, Tarantino writes movies the way others write books, and that challenge has rewarded him greatly over the years. 

For instance, the relationship between Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and the two brothers, Bill and Budd is peculiar, to say the least. She seems to be the loosest canon of them all, even we find out, as having turned on her mentor before without any particular emotional response. She's downright sociopathic, except towards Bill, who she seems eerily devoted to. I gotta admit, that in my head canon for the movie, I suspected that she was also related to Bill and Budd (Michael Madsen) as their sister, and there's some insinuation of this, but apparently that's not the case as she's apparently Bill's replacement for The Bride, although her complete disdain for Budd, who's path has clearly divulged heavily from Bill's as these brothers lives have definitely gone off somewhere along the way, makes it seem like she's definitely as close to the family as you can get, without being related, even if it's not the family either of them would want.
 
Either way, the undercurrent of family does seem to matter most particularly in "Vol. 2" as, after the amazing fight scene between Elle and The Bride, the utter shock, horror, surprise and sudden jubilant glee that The Bride has when she finally finds out Bill's location only to be foiled, not by him, but by the sudden appearance of B.B. (Perla Haney-Jardine) the daughter she thought she lost, only to be found alive, but having been raised by Bill himself. The shock of it, even if we're told about it before, of Bebe is heart-wrenching, it's at times both touching and heart-warming and truly sadistic. 

There's been a lot of female-led revenge fantasies in recent years, and I get why; it's a cathartic genre in a post #MeToo world, but you don't hear this female revenge fantasy brought up enough I fear. For one thing, it really is perfectly twisted, especially in "Vol. 2," just how brilliantly The Bride's hitlist match up with her personal struggles, as a female, essentially. Think about it, first she kills O-Ren, the mafia boss hitman, she's what she could've been if she would've continued on her path. Then, there's Vernita, who did manage to do what she couldn't, leave the life, start over and raise a family. Then Budd, the gruff renegade male figure who worked as a bouncer at a titty bar, where even the strippers tell him to literally clean up their shit; he's the emasculated man who's controlled by other more dominant women (and others), which explains why he's given up his sword for a shotgun, he's the person who, in another world, The Bride would be in control of. Then there's Elle, her rival as a professional woman in a man's field, essentially she's fighting the more brazen version of herself and what she could've been if she had been/remained a loose canon, only she's not as good and determined, as she's taken the shortcut to success (hence why her favorite weapons of choice are poison-based). Then, to succeed, she must "Kill Bill", the man who's taken everything away from her that she could've achieved, professionally and personally, including motherhood, even after being the mentor that brought her up; he's the symbol of the systemic patriarchy that brought her down. Frankly, this is the movie that really nails the female fantasy-revenge story better then anything metaphorically. 

It also would arguably be the best, because it's the most iconic and fun of these movies, even in the #MeToo era where this genre is saturating the market, including the recent Best Picture nominee, "Promising Young Woman", "Kill Bill Vol. 1" and "Kill Bill Vol. 2" are going to be the one that we're gonna keep going back to because as much as "Promising Young Woman" might be what female getting revenge on the people and system who literally went after you, actually might look like in the real world, "Kill Bill" is what you want it to be, and imagine how it would be like. It's the perfect fantasy version of how you'd actually imagine getting that kind of vengeance, and that's why it still feels so damn satisfying all these years later. So much more memorable as well. It might not have been the one that garnered the awards attention that it should've but I think long after the tropes created by "Pulp Fiction" are gonna feel passe, "Kill Bill" is still gonna explode off the screen and remain indelible on the mind. 

Sometimes we just need to go through a long epic struggle to get some bloody satisfaction, ain't that right, Kiddo?

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