*Kill Bill Vol. 2 (R)
There's a scene in Love and Death, Woody Allen's paean-parody of classic Russian literature, when his character gets into an impassioned philosophical discussion (as only 19th-century Russians can) about the nature of love and sex.
"But sex without love is a shallow and meaningless experience," Diane Keaton insists.
"Yes," Allen quips, "but as far as shallow and meaningless experiences go, it's one of the best."
That's Quentin Tarantino in a nutshell. His films may be nothing more than homages to other genres and a platform for his distinct brand of savage dialogue, but his storytelling is tighter and more pleasurable than that of venerated auteurs like, say, Lars Von Trier. What's more, few directors have even half his ability to dig up forgotten music and use it seductively and with discipline.
All of this is to say that the second installment of Kill Bill is as much of a delight as the first and easily the director's best work since the house that built Miramax, Pulp Fiction.
When we last left our Bill-killer, "the bride"(Uma Thurman) had awakened from a four-year coma and promptly hacked up the assassin squad responsible for offing her wedding party.
In a flashback to her shanty shack church wedding, we're finally introduced to Bill (David Carradine), who has crashed the wedding. Though he's not wearing a suit and sunglasses, he's still the stock Tarantino underworld type: exceptionally well spoken yet oddly stoic and capable of getting medieval on yer ass at the drop of a gat.
This elegantly haggard man was once Thurman's guru in the art of international assassination as well as her lover. While he feigns happiness for her now that she's moved on to a simpler man, we know his real feelings are otherwise -- so otherwise that he puts a bullet through the bride's skull as she's about to tell him that the fruit of her womb has his name on it.
In Vol. 1, the bride thought her coma had meant the loss of her baby, but now she learns her child survived and has been living with her father, the same man she's bent on avenging.
Unlike Vol. I, which was marked by acrobatic kung fu orgies and preposterous body counts, the final installment doles out more psychological drama than straight up killing. Like the first film, the story unfolds episodically, first with the bride taking out Bill's deadbeat brother Budd (Michael Madsen). Such a flop is the bride's first attempt at whacking Budd that she finds herself bound and kicking while buried in a coffin with two gunshot wounds to the chest. It's here that we flash back to her samurai training at the hands of Pei Mei (Gordon Liu Jia-hui).
Pei Mei is something like an irate kung fu cousin of the Lord of the Rings' Gandalf. But he's even more enjoyable to watch as he runs the fine hairs of his ridiculously long white beard through his fingers in furrowed contemplation. Mostly, however, he cackles and barks as he reduces the bride -- whose name we learn is Beatrix Kiddo -- into a quivering wreck. All in the name of training.
Needless to say, Pei Mei's tutelage proves instrumental in her Houdini-esque escape from the grave. Her next target just so happens to be Elle Driver, the cycloptically sexy Darryl Hannah. There's a hilariously anticlimatic face-off between the two svelte sword mavens (both of whom were Pei Mei disciples) that's better left unexplained. Let's just say it's a moment of gore that rivals Pulp Fiction's famous adrenaline shot.
Tarantino has previously taught us that even the most murderous gangsters can be redeemed. Kill Bill's lesson is similar and sillier: Being a ruthless killer and a good mom are not mutually exclusive. Just because your child's present doesn't mean some folks don't deserve to die. Handy stuff to know, strangely enjoyable to watch, and probably a good idea to forget. Because incredible cinema without anything to say is one of the best shallow experiences out there. And sometimes that's good enough.
-- John Dicker
Tinseltown, Cinemark 16, Kimball's Twin Peak