"Is she aware her daughter is still alive?"
That was the final line of Kill Bill vol. 1
, the one little piece of information that put everything that happened before into perspective and that suggested tantalizing possibilities for what would happen next. "Vol. 2" isn't a conventional sequel or just the second part of the story, it's a whole different film that stands on its own. Sure, actually experiencing The Bride's awakening, her going to Okinawa to get Hattori Hanzo to make a sword for her and her getting bloody satisfaction from murdering Vernita Green and O-Ren Ishii was a huge thrill and it always makes you smile when those events are referred to in "Vol. 2". Still, even if you haven't seen "Vol. 1", you can understand everything in "Vol. 2" and it feels like a complete whole.
In fact, it might even be better
to see "Vol. 2" first. Coming off the incredible adrenaline rush that is "Vol. 1", the first few scenes of "Vol. 2" feel like a disappointment. Gone are the pop-up visuals, the funkalicious soundtrack and the non-stop mayhem. You just get people standing around and talking. Then talking some more. Don't get me wrong, it's all well shot (the first chapter is in glorious black & white), the actors are good and the talk itself is well written and all, only this feels like any other ordinary film (any other ordinary Tarantino film, at least). The sky-high funhouse expectations set by "Vol. 1" aren't being met, basically. But eventually you realize that these expectations aren't supposed
to be met!
After staging the coolest damn exploitation flick in "Vol. 1", now Tarantino is pulling the curtains back and revealing the heart and soul of his story and characters. We go back to the church wedding massacre of which we'd only seen glimpses before and we get the whole picture – not of the massacre itself, but of who The Bride was about to marry and of the new life she had chosen. We understand the exact nature of her love-hate relationship with Bill and how tragic it is. In retrospect, "Kill Bill" is a tragedy more than anything:
A drama in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.
Bill is our main character and as the title loudly implies, he will be "brought to ruin" and "suffer extreme sorrow". If you'd ask him what his "tragic flaw" is, he'd tell you that he's a hopeless romantic. He loves the Bride, passionately. When he shoots her in the head at point blank, he isn't being sadistic; that's him at his most masochistic, killing the woman he loves. What Bill wouldn't admit (unless you injected him with Undisputed Truth) is that what will really do him in is his "moral weakness": he's a murdering bastard. In his original screenplay, Tarantino writes that "Bill was the greatest assassin of the 20th century. In fact the term HITMAN was coined for him." Bill's a killer, a Natural Born Killer. Killing people is what he does. When he faces "unfavorable circumstances" like, say, finding out that the love of his life is about to marry another man, how do you expect him to "cope"?
Now, of course, as much as we grow to understand and even feel sympathetic towards Bill, one fact remains: The Bride and him have unfinished business. He killed her about-to-be-husband and her friends, left her for dead and took her baby girl away from her. For that, he deserves to die, and so does everyone who took part in the massacre.
With O-Ren and Vernita already out of the way, The Bride returns to Texas to find Budd (Michael Madsen in a cowboy hat), Bill's kid brother and a member of the DiVAS. Whereas Vernita had retired to a comfy family life and O-Ren had risen to the top of the Tokyo yakuzas, Budd has lost himself in the last few years. He's become a fat alcoholic who works in a seedy titty bar and lives in a trailer. Yet he still has some of his old reflexes, as the Bride will painfully find out in a chapter straight out of an Italian horror film...
Also left on the Bride's Death List Five is Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah with an eye patch), her eternal rival who replaced her as the tall sexy blonde at Bill's side. Their confrontation in Budd's trailer is the cat fight to end all cat fights, it's gargantuan! There is also a chapter in "Vol. 2" devoted to "the cruel tutelage" of the Bride by Pei Mei (Gordon Liu with bushy white eyebrows and a long beard), a priceless pastiche of training sequences in old kung fu movies, and then we get to it:
Last chapter - Face to Face
I guess you could say that some of what came before was derivative, needlessly violent or self-indulgent, but even the most ardent Tarantino critics will have to admit that the final 30-45 minutes of "Kill Bill" are brilliant. This last chapter might very well be the best thing Tarantino's ever written and directed. This is a feast of the great dialogue that made him famous, with hilarious pop culture references, sudden bursts of violence and most of all, the profound and moving dissection of Bill and the Bride's ambiguous and unhealthy relationship. Uma Thurman and David Carradine are both outstanding and little Perla Honey-Jardine is totally scrumptious as their daughter. The scene where The Bride reunites with the little girl she thought she'd lost is heartbreaking – who knew a Tarantino movie could make you cry?
Carradine calls "Kill Bill" a "kung-fu samurai Spaghetti Western love story" and that's about the best sum-up I've heard. As much as I loved "Vol. 1", it's through "Vol. 2" that it all comes together so beautifully. This is as rewarding a viewing experience as you could hope for, all the way to that perfect final shot and that perfect final title:
"The lioness has been reunited with her cub, and all is right in the jungle."