Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2 (2003/4)

Kill Bill Vol. 1: 2003, dir. Quentin Tarantino. Seen on DVD (May 9).
Kill Bill Vol. 2: 2004, dir. Quentin Tarantino. Seen at Alamo Lake Creek (May 9).
Some people think Quentin Tarantino is a genius. Some think he’s an overrated asshole.
Me, I think he’s a huuuuge damn film geek who has a pleasing knack for slipping tons of entertaining obscure film references into a movie without ruining the movie either for film buffs or people who wouldn’t get the jokes.

A good example is the scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 where The Bride encounters Hattori Hanzo. My boyfriend and I didn’t know the story behind the name “Hattori Hanzo”—he looked it up on the Web afterwards and explained it to me. And my boyfriend didn’t know that Hanzo was played by Sonny Chiba, or who Chiba is, but he enjoyed the scene. (I knew, weirdly enough from reading Harlan Ellison. He was the star of all the Street Fighter kung-fu movies in the 1970s. Chiba, not Ellison, that is.)
I knew but didn’t fully understand the extent of Tarantino’s film geekiness until I listened to the Tarantino/Rodriguez commentary track on From Dusk Till Dawn. Every scene, he exclaimed that this was “the best action scene I’ve ever written” or “the best scene in the movie” or “the best sequence you’ve ever directed” or “one of the best scenes ever.” He was infectiously enthusiastic about everything, happy to relate the story of where they found this character’s name or what movie he’d love that actor in, and so on. That man adores movies, especially his own. That exuberance is obvious in the best parts of his movies.
I saw Kill Bill Vol. 1 on DVD in the morning and then saw Vol. 2 that afternoon in a movie theater. Despite the first part being on DVD, I enjoyed it much more than the second part.
Vol. 1 was an excellent action film that didn’t bother telling us any more information than we absolutely needed. Where did The Bride come from? Who was Bill and why did he shoot her? We don’t know. It’s not important. In fact, the movie is better for us not knowing. Do you know how Rick got to Casablanca? No, and you don’t need to know. You’re happier not knowing. A mysterious past is often more effective than a hackneyed background explanation.
Yes, Vol. 1 was a bit gory in parts but it was such unrealistic gore, such silly exaggerated fountains of blood, that I didn’t mind it a bit. (Bear in mind I saw the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs with my glasses off and peeking through my fingers and I have no desire to see any more of that particular movie.) The attack scene in the hospital was the only one that horrified me, and that was from the situation more than any graphic images.
I loved all the fight scenes, loved the driving vengeful rage of The Bride, loved the animated sequence about O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu, who kicked ass wonderfully), and particularly loved the interaction between Uma Thurman and Sonny Chiba. I liked that we didn’t know The Bride’s name, although I thought the script could have been written more deftly so it was unnecessary to bleep it, which was distracting, and it could simply not have been mentioned (like in Rebecca).
One reason I saw Vol. 1 on DVD was that I was worried I might not be able to stand all the gore on the big screen, but I think it would have been fine and if I get a change to see Vol. 1 in a theater, I will probably go.
I was all psyched to see Vol. 2, which I was sure would have even more over-the-top fight sequences and mysterious characters and of course, some sort of amazing climactic fight scene with The Bride and Bill.
I was very much disappointed. Long stretches of Vol. 2 bored the hell out of me. Huge chunks of stilted dialogue, and I have always found the dialogue in Tarantino’s movies to be weak. He can manage one-liners, but sustained conversations make me restless for a change.
Vol. 2 spent way too much time explaining stuff that didn’t need to be explained. Why did we need to see the wedding? Excuse me, the wedding rehearsal (and I didn’t get that either). Why do we need to spend so much time seeing where Budd works? If we needed to know anything about Budd, or Elle Driver, or whomever, why not show it in a stylized, abbreviated story like the animated sequence in Vol. 1? The explanations were lame, dragged down the story, and generated more questions than they answered.
The only background sequence I liked was The Bride’s training with Pai Mei. The flashback sequence served several good purposes—providing a setup for The Bride to escape her live burial, and giving her an extra-good reason to pluck out Elle Driver’s good eye. Okay, I liked that bit, too.
Honestly, Vol. 2 just got lamer and lamer all the way to the incredibly lame ending. The Bride finally locates Bill and there he is with their darling child whom he hopes will convince her to stay with them as one big happy family. Then he launches into this long, long speech about how she’s like a superhero, which is probably what Tarantino considered a big climactic revelation but I just sat, and sat, and waved my hand in a circle in that way that means get on with it and wondered when we were going to have the big fight. And then he shot her with this truth serum that sounded silly and unbelievable, all so she could tell him a bunch of boring stuff we didn’t need to know.
The scene with The Bride and the female assassin after The Bride discovers she is pregnant is terribly sexist and annoying. Did Tarantino read too much Robert Heinlein, or what? His male killers would never behave in such a dumbass way.
And when we finally get to the climactic fight sequence, it’s disappointingly short. I expected something more.
I think Vol. 1 and 2 could have been cut into one longish but superior movie. You could cut at least a half-hour of stupid flashbacks and explanations out of Vol. 2, quite easily. Let The Bride’s unrelenting vengeance carry the action, which I think it could.
And I would also change the last scene. Instead of The Bride and her daughter at a hotel, I would have cut to Hattori Hanzo’s place, where The Bride and Hanzo would playfully argue with each other while preparing sushi and tea for a customer. And upstairs, with The Bride’s sword in the rack with the others, we’d see her daughter. Perhaps just playing quietly on the floor, perhaps (if we set this further in the future) learning how to use a sword.
That would have been so much cooler. Treat The Bride like a warrior, not a mommy. Thank you.
(Note: I lifted the comparison to Rick’s background in Casablanca from William Goldman’s book Which Lie Did I Tell?, in which he explains similar script trouble with The Ghost and The Darkness.)
(Further credit goes to my boyfriend, who came up with the concept of the cool last scene with Hanzo.)