Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Running Time: 136 minutes
UK Certificate: 18
Country: United States
Revenge may be, as the old Klingon proverb goes, a dish best served cold, but when Quentin Tarantino is the chef, it is served very very cool – and the result is something sweet and satisfying. ‘Kill Bill’ is his masterwork on revenge, taking in the dynamics, complications, contradictions, and cinematic history of retribution, while remaining to the end a kick-ass entertainment of epic proportions, full of bold visual flourishes, quirky chronology, and postmodern retro chic. It tells the tale of ‘the Bride’ (Uma Thurman), left for dead at the altar by four former associates from the Viper Assassination Squad and their leader Bill, who is also her ex-lover and the father of her (then) unborn daughter. Four years later the Bride recovers from her coma, and compiles a list of her five attackers, intending to make them pay one by one, culminating in a final showdown with Bill.
In a cynical bid to double their box-office takings and their chances at the Oscars, Miramax insisted that ‘Kill Bill’ be divided into two separate ‘volumes’ released in consecutive years – but Tarantino has turned this imposed split into an artfully integral part of the project which is neatly summarised by its two-word title. For Volume 1 is more kill than Bill – some ninety people are bloodily dispatched (or at the very least mutilated) by the Bride, while not once is Bill’s face seen; whereas Volume 2 reverses the emphasis, with hardly any killing at all (although there is one memorable scene where the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’ is taken all too literally), but a whole lot more of Bill by way of compensation, in a magnetic performance from David Carradine who brings tension, humour, menace, and even tenderness to every scene in which he appears.
Tarantino has always been a cinematic magpie, and here he still shows the same interest in playing off his western against his eastern influences as he did in Volume 1, only this time shifting the focus from Japanese martial arts and yakuza films to Chinese kung fu, with Gordon Liu hilarious as the Bride’s elderly Chinese master Pai Mei, all stylised beard-stroking and cursing against the Japanese and Americans. Along the way, Tarantino pastiches many other genres, ranging from the western to 1970s exploitation, from film noir to zombie flicks, and switches adroitly between colour and black-and-white, single- and split-screens, in an exhilarating celebration of the possibilities of celluloid storytelling (although minus the stunning animé from Volume 1).
Volume 2 is full of revelations – why the Bride quit her job as an assassin, why Bill gunned her and the entire wedding party down, how Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) got her eyepatch, what the Bride is really called – but all this is mere breadcrumbs on the path leading to Uma’s inevitable face-to-face with Bill, which plays itself out in wonderful confusion as part family get-together, part deadly settling of scores, part domestic dispute, and part pseudo-Nietszchean discussion of the relationship between man and Superman (no, really).
The Bride’s reunion at the end with the daughter she never knew she had (they watch a video of ‘Shogun Assassin’ together, naturally) resonates uncomfortably with the scene which Tarantino saw fit to use, ignoring all chronological sequence, as the starting point of the Bride’s revenge: Vernita Green (Vivica Fox) being killed in front of her own daughter by the Bride. This jarring repetition – beginning and ending with a mother and daughter – opens up a more serious point beneath all the high-jinks: that vengeance, once started, never ends but just leads repeatedly to more vengeance, even if you do manage to kill your Bill. Only time will tell whether this is intended as a profound insight into the cyclical nature of vendettas, or as early promotion for ‘How the Bride Died: Volume 1’.
It's Got: The five-point palm exploding heart technique, a Texas funeral, a black mamba, a highly understated use of the line "mummys kinda mad at daddy", a dead goldfish called Emilio, some impossibly fast precision swordplay, and a whole lot of style and black humour.
It Needs: To be a bit tighter - e.g. it could safely lose the entire long scene with the Mexican pimp.
Alternatives:Kill Bill: Vol. 1, The Long Kiss Goodnight, They Call Her One Eye
Not quite as good as 'Volume 1', but still, rarely is revenge served this cool, sweet and satisfying.