Thursday, July 15, 2004

'Kill Bill' lives up to Tarantino's reputation

—Originally published 7.16.04

While they may tell one story, the two volumes of Quentin Tarantino's kung-fu revenge epic "Kill Bill" are entirely different. After watching "Vol. 2" (released in April and now in second-run theaters), it's nearly impossible to imagine cramming the two installments together into one movie -- although, viewing them back-to-back on DVD will be great.

It's equally difficult to pull them apart in terms of criticism, since they are so intimately linked. This story of a female assassin seeking to destroy her former employer's organization is literally split down the middle -- and neither is quite a complete movie standing on its own.

"Vol. 2" has a more traditional feel than last year's "Vol. 1," which was heavy on blood-and-guts samurai-sword-slashing extravagance but light on backstory. It's not until the second volume we really learn about The Bride (Uma Thurman), her nemesis Bill (David Carradine) and the events leading up to this clash of the titans.

Disclosing much about the film's story, though, would ruin the experience for you, so I'll restrain myself. Highlights include a wicked closed-quarters fight between The Bride and former Deadly Viper Assassination Squad colleague Elle (Daryl Hannah) and enthralling scenes of The Bride's early training from master Pai Mei (Chia Hui Liu).

The carnage is toned down for "Vol. 2," but Tarantino's characteristic extreme violence from out of nowhere is still at full throttle. In fact, the pain and suffering dished out in this film actually makes more of an impact because our senses are not dulled by continual bloody punishment. Thus, when Bill's equally sadistic brother Budd (played to creepy fullness by Michael Madsen) buries The Bride alive, the scene is much more gripping than any of the lopped limbs from the first film.

(Insert here the typical warning with any Tarantino film: If you don't want to view extreme acts of violence -- no matter how artfully or wittily filmed -- don't watch any of his movies. They can be disturbing.)

Pulling back on the violence allows the writer/director's beloved main characters -- and the actors who portray them -- to shine in "Vol. 2." Thurman and Carradine should both be considered for next year's Academy Awards with these performances, as their indelible turns create the usual Tarantino conundrum: These are really, really bad people whom you can't help but love on a character level. Don't look for any tidy moral to this story because, outside of a mother's love for her daughter, there really is no morality whatsoever.

Love him or hate him, though, nobody makes films like Quentin Tarantino (not that myriad wannabes haven't tried). His "Kill Bill" duology probably won't go down as a "landmark" piece like 1994's "Pulp Fiction," but that doesn't take anything away from these films; if you can stomach the violence, they comprise a stylish, thrilling, captivating tale.

More than a decade into his filmmaking career, this movie-clerk-turned-auteur hasn't lost a step.

Grade: A (for both parts and the whole)

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