Combustible Celluloid
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With: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Michael Parks
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 137
Date: 04/16/2004

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'Bill' Thrills

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in the 1920s, German director Fritz Lang made two lengthy films, the crime story Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and the adventure epic Die Nibelungen. He released the 4-hour films in two 2-hour chunks a few months apart, both as a kindness to the human bladder and to ensure double the ticket sales.

Most likely Quentin Tarantino had the same thing in mind when he split his new epic Kill Bill into two halves, though he has never mentioned Fritz Lang in interviews. He mostly mentions Sergio Leone, a filmmaker who never had any qualms about releasing 2, 3 or even 4-hour films.

The film's two halves and the skewed logic behind this ploy has been its most controversial aspect and its biggest flaw. But now that Vol. 2 has arrived, the argument over the two films comes to nothing more than splitting hairs.

Certainly we can complain about the film's length, but how could anyone cut it down? Even the most worthless five minutes of Kill Bill is better than most entire films. Whether one watches the second half first or the first half not at all, or both together, Kill Bill is a triumphant achievement in American film, a cut-and-paste epic celebrating the crudest and most noblest human traits.

At the end of part one, the Bride (Uma Thurman) had knocked off her list two of her five targets. Remaining is: Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Budd (Michael Madsen) and Bill (David Carradine). Vol. 1 stretched out and played with time by taking out the Bride's first target (Vivica A. Fox) in minutes, while dragging the second target (Lucy Liu) out to the rest of the length of the film. Vol. 2 offers a few surprises as well. Nothing quite happens the way you'd expect.

At one point Tarantino offers a great flashback to the Bride's training sequence with a tough, crusty old kung-fu master, Pei Mei (Gordon Liu). The flashback is rife with trademarks of 1970s kung-fu films, complete with bleached-out, grainy film stock, intense zoom-ins and the master stroking his long, thin, white beard. Best of all, the sequence is perfectly placed, cohering precisely to the very next scene.

In another scene, actor Michael Parks, who embodied the crusty small-town sheriff investigating the bride's shooting in Vol. 1, returns here as a full-blooded Mexican pimp, Estaban Vihaio, slimy with both couth and venom. It's an astonishing performance worthy of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, a one-two trick most actors only dream of.

Like the first, film, Vol. 2 smashes several different filmic styles together, though this half is far more coherent, as if Vol. 1 were merely a primer. Vol. 2 opens with 20 minutes of glossy black-and-white footage, and when one character is bound in ropes, the aspect ratio changes from Cinemascope to a more constrained and claustrophobic television shape.

Best of all, Tarantino returns to his great and memorable dialogue; characters actually talk to one another here rather than the stilted samurai movie-speak of the first film. Elle Driver wonders why the word "gargantuan" isn't used more often, and Bill delivers an amazing speech about the life and death of a goldfish -- while making sandwiches. And through better dialogue comes more engaging characters.

Moreover, Tarantino seems to savor this film quite a bit more. Many filmmakers will put all their energy into their first ten minutes, but Tarantino invests everything he has in every frame of Kill Bill. He pours over every shot, insisting that it be the most amazing thing ever created, and he has the genius and the raw skill to damn near pull it off. One would be hard-pressed to find anything in American cinema that comes anywhere near it.

DVD Details: Because both Kill Bill DVDs have been so skimpy, I suspect that Miramax has some super-duper bonus double (or triple) disc edition coming soon. All we have here are a deleted scene -- a very cool fight scene involving Carradine, but which shows Thurman cowering in a corner -- a behind-the-scenes featurette and footage of the CHINGON performance (featuring director Robert Rodriguez at the film's world premiere. The film is mastered in 2.35-to-1 widescreen and has optional English or French language tracks, as well as an optional DTS track. Optional subtitles include Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. Perhaps someday we can expect a Kill Bill Special Edition with both films together in the same set and slightly more exciting extras.

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