I finally made it back to the movie theater this weekend, catching both Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Hellboy. I found both films to be rather entertaining work from a couple of the better pop auteurs working in the Hollywood genre scene today, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro (speaking of Tarantino, the Dateline interview with him this evening was far too short). I’ll save Hellboy for a later review.
In some ways, Tarantino’s reputation has been constrained by his status as a “database filmmaker,” mixing and matching references to a range of influences, including samurai, kung fu, TV shows, and blacksploitation films (thanks to scribblingwoman for the link). As a proud film geek, I love the cinematic references and Tarantino’s ability to have fun with them, but I also find him to be a terrific storyteller who taps into some important cultural fantasies (spoilers galore). I don’t think that Tarantino’s stylized references to the cinematic past are purely trivial, as this Salon reviewer suggests, but instead refer to the cinematic past in order to rewrite it.
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (IMDB) picks up where Vol 1 leaves off, following the story of The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she seeks revenge on Bill (David Carradine) after he attempted to murder her in a wedding chapel in El Paso, Texas. Unlike Vol. 1, the violence in the second film is more subdued, and there’s more character development, more conversation, with characters occasionally using popular culture to make points a la the deconstruction of “Papa Don’t Preach” in Resevoir Dogs (I’m thinking here especially of Bill’s monologue on superheroes). The relationship between the Bride (her “real” name is Beatrix Kiddo) and Bill is fleshed out. It turns out they were lovers, and she left him and their lives as jet-setting assassins, hoping to pursue a normal life as the wife of a second-hand record-store owner (a subtle reference to QT’s own past as a video-store geek?). We also know from the first film that the Bride’s daughter is still alive, a detail that Vol. 2 carefully suppresses for most of the film.
A flashback to Beatrix’s training with martial arts master, Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, voice dubbed by Tarantino), who Bill reports hates Americans, blondes, and women, allows QT to work out some of the critiques of his representations of East and West. Other scenes, such as Bud’s fight with his boss at a rundown topless bar and his retreat into an isolated mobile home, evoking through the use of heavy close-ups, the westerns of Sergio Leone, address the difficulties of aging and decline (equally communicated by Michael Madsen’s sagging jowls).
In this sense, the film seems to be negotiating the boundaries between the fantasy life embodied in Tarantino’s “trash films” and the real world of domesticity and family. It doesn’t seem accidental that many of the fight scenes take place in everyday settings, and here I’m thinking about the fight scene between The Bride and Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) in the tiny kitchen of Bud’s mobile home, echoing the fight scene between the Bride and Vernita in Vol. 1. These preoccupations with parenting and family come across throughout the film, when Beatrix worries about Vernita’s daughter or when she reads her own daughter (whom she has never seen) a bedtime story. The scene is surprisingly poignant for a film about betrayal and revenge. Still, even without the emotional payoff, I found Vol. 2 to be a fun movie-geek ride and one of the better films I’ve seen this year.
I don’t think I’ve quite captured what I liked about this film, but for now, my main observation is that QT’s references, while often seen as connoting a pure surface or celebratory play, actually convey a much more complicated reflection on regret, betrayal, and loss, often using and reworking these earlier films in surprising ways.
Note: I just came across the Metaphilm review, and I find Mark T. Conrad’s assertion that the Kill Bill films are “therapy sessions” for QT, in which he is “recreating his past in order to grasp it more realistically, with the father absent and the women powerful.”