R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Rob's Kill Bill Dojo Part 3

Looked dead, didn’t I? But I wasn’t. But it wasn’t from lack of trying, I can tell you that. Actually, Bill’s last bullet put me in a coma – A coma I was to lie in for four years. When I woke up, I went on what the movie advertisements refer to as a ‘roaring rampage of revenge.’ I roared. And I rampaged. And I got bloody satisfaction. I’ve killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point, but I have only one more. The last one. The one I’m driving to right now. The only one left. And when I arrive at my destination, I am gonna kill Bill.

– The Bride

In mid 2003, Quentin Tarantino made a really controversial decision when it came to his 4th film, Kill Bill. After delays, a ballooning budget and running time, QT decided to split his movie in two, with Volume 1 coming out in late 2003, and Volume 2 coming out in early 2004. Fan reaction to this decision was less than positive. Rumors abounded that Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax (the studio distributing the film), had called for the decision to make more money. All we knew for sure was that Tarantino had said that the running time had exceeded three hours and he was unsure fans would sit there for that long to watch a Martial Arts film no matter how good.

In late 2003, QT did release Volume 1 and was met with great critical and fan reaction. Criticism was given to the film on some fronts though. The picture was filled with great action, and references, but many felt the film lacked enough emotional content to care about the characters. Also, many felt the film lacked the usual top notch Tarantino dialogue. Finally, with Volume 1 having a running time of nearly two hours, would Volume 2 have enough content to be satisfying? With Kill Bill Volume 2 QT would silence many of his critics and solidify one of the best films of his career.

Kill Bill: Volume 2 Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Gordon Liu, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Once again the film begins with a shot of Uma’s Bride being shot by David Carradine’s Bill. While the shot is identical, one change is very significant. In the first film the scene was played with no music at all. This time around, the soundtrack is filled with the sounds of Ennio Morricone’s A Silhouette of Doom. The change is subtle, but an important one as it marks a distinct tone shift with this film. As the first film was able to mainly capture the spirit of 70’s Japanese cinema, Volume 2 had very different types of genres on its mind, from Chop Socky to most importantly Spaghetti Westerns.

This tone is very evident in the saga sixth Chapter, Massacre at Two Pines. Now initially Tarantino had intended for the film’s sixth chapter to be Yuki’s Revenge in which Gogo Yubari’s sister would have shown up to try and get revenge on the Bride. Tarantino dropped this section in favor of this new chapter that would help to flesh out not only the Bride’s background, but really introduce David Carradine’s Bill to audiences.

As the scene begins, we see that the wedding party is making their last preparations for the ceremony, bringing together Tommy Plympton (Christopher Allen Nelson) and the Bride posing as Arlene Machiavelli (That’s a fake!). Shot in a beautiful black and white, the sequence has a horrible sense of foreboding to it, as we all know the slaughter that is about to take place. But before the section turns to bloodletting, Tarantino is able to work some wonderful dialogue and a couple of great cameos.

First up is Reverend Harmony played by Bo Svenson. Of course, part of the reason Tarantino even made Kill Bill was to remind audiences of the films that he loved while growing up. An oddly popular series of films during the 70’s was the Walking Tall franchise about the life of real life Tennessee Sheriff, Buford Pusser. Based on actual events, the series began with Joe Don Baker in the lead role about the small town lawman that cleaned up the mob influence in his town. After Baker left the role, Svenson was brought in and played Pusser not only in the film’s two sequels, but also in the Walking Tall TV series.

The next cameo was Samuel L. Jackson’s Rufus, the Two Pines organ player. Jackson has almost become synonymous with Tarantino’s films in the past with his major roles in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, and it’s nice to see him here. The scene itself basically just has Jackson getting to be cool for a few lines, but it doesn’t seem out of place at all.
With the sounds of Ennio Morricone’s Il Tramonto, the scene immediately switches gears. The song is featured very early on in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly where it heralds the introduction of Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes before he massacres a small family. The song is used to a very similar effect here as the Bride walks out of the Two Pines Chapel to come face to face with Bill.

Sitting there, Bill plays a flute very similar to the one he played on the TV Series Kung Fu. In the show he played Kwai Chang Caine, a half Chinese, half Caucasian, Shaolin monk traveling the American West looking for his half brother. The series (originally created by Bruce Lee as a starring vehicle for himself) made Carradine a cult star, but unfortunately his career wielded no other major performances. I do have to admit to having a soft spot for Carradine’s evil Rawley Wilkes in the Chuck Norris vehicle Lone Wolf McQuade, which in some ways was a forerunner to Kill Bill as it also tried to meld a modern Action film with the traditional Spaghetti Western.

Carradine, as it turns out, was perfect for the role of Bill. The role was originally intended for Warren Beatty and had a more Bond villain feel to it. When the production was delayed due to Uma Thurman getting pregnant, Beatty left the project, but suggested Carradine. The decision turned out to be a fortuitous one as Tarantino was a huge fan of the former Kung Fu star. How Kung Fu would have turned out with Bruce Lee as its star is a matter of much controversy, but in and of itself the show was monumental in bringing Martial Arts to a main stream American audience. Giving the show a Western theme just made it that much more accessible.

When Carradine came on board Kill Bill the role changed to fit the star. The actor actually plays Bill as if he were a descendant of Kwai Chang Caine, only more twisted. The results are mesmerizing. Much like Orson Welles’ Harry Lime in The Third Man or Eli Wallach’s Calvera in The Magificent Seven, the mere mention of Bill’s name strikes either fear or disgust in the faces of various characters. Bill is a wraith that haunts the films, making his introduction one of the big moments of Kill Bill.

Just as Sonny Chiba showed a warmth he had never displayed on screen before in Volume 1 as Hattori Hanzo, Carradine imbues Bill with a charisma that I’m sure few thought the actor was capable of. From his first moments on screen, Carradine displays a presence that holds the entire audience within his grasp. The scene where Bill is pretending to be the Bride’s father in front of her husband-to-be is funny and touching, which makes the betrayal that much worse when the DiVAS come in for the kill.

The scene itself is a virtuoso sequence by Tarantino. Critics damning Volume 1 for its lack of dialogue get their comeuppance as the scene is totally played as a slow burn between Thurman and Carradine. Also, the Spaghetti Western theme is played up to the hilt with a plethora of close-ups is used to accentuate the leads eyes and feet as they move together.

The massacre fades to a desert backdrop and a lonely trailer where Bill and his brother Budd (Michael Madsen) discuss the Bride’s assault on the Crazy 88’s and O-Ren. Again the dialogue here is fantastic. Without even mentioning specifics we immediately know there was a feud between the two brothers and that Budd has fallen on very hard times. This is very much in keeping with the theme of how even the mentioning of Bill’s name seems to be poison. Yet Bill also shows his good streak here as he has driven all the way out to the middle of nowhere in attempt to warn and save his brother from the Bride’s wrath.

From there we get to Chapter Seven: The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz and we see that Budd has found work at a local strip club. The small car that Bruce Willis’ Butch drives in Pulp Fiction sits in the parking lot as Budd drives up. Once inside we get another cameo as Sig Haig tends bar. Haig was a character actor from 70’s exploitation films such as Foxy Brown and was most recently cast as Captain Spaulding in The Devil’s Rejects, .

The entire sequence is used to show just how far Budd has fallen. He’s a broken man who is paying penance for the wicked life he has led at the side of his brother. Budd is a dangerous man who was on one of the deadliest teams of assassins ever put together, but here he takes a dressing down from a man that owns a low rent strip joint. Tarantino drives home the point as Johnny Cash’s Satisfied Mind plays on the soundtrack. Being with evil company has driven Budd to a life of self imposed damnation, but with the impending attack from the Bride, Budd may have found his salvation.

Budd actually captures the Bride and plans on killing her by burying her alive. In an odd way though, Tarantino has given Budd such a maudlin plea that you don’t really want him to die. Budd buries the Bride in an attempt to build some sort of bridge between him and his estranged brother. “This is for breaking my brother’s heart” is the last thing Budd says to the Bride before nailing the coffin she is laying in shut.

Madsen and Tarantino had of course teamed up previously in Reservoir Dogs, but Budd is much more than just a Mr. Blonde rehash. Madsen can be a tremendous actor and shows every ounce of his acting chops here. Every scene he is featured in is filled with a sense of remorse until he meets up with the Bride.

As for the burial scene itself, it is absolutely terrifying. I can’t imagine having claustrophobia and being able to watch this sequence. The use of sound and light is incredible here as Tarantino makes you feel as if you were being buried with Uma.

This seems like certain death, but fear not dear readers, the Bride will find a way. This seems like as good a stopping point as any, so I’ll pick up here next week. Tune in seven days from now for the last look at Kill Bill and find out what was added from the original 3 hour version to make the films a 4 hour epic.

Picture Credits: filmdeculte.com, outnow.ch, filmdeculte.com, dvdtimes.co.uk, dvdjournal.com, impawards.com

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