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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

'Kill Bill Vol. 2' slays a step above the rest

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, April 23, 2004

Quentin Tarantino is a good director. In fact, he's something of a directorial genius. In spite of his flair for violence and absurdity, Tarantino creates films that are so unique and intense that one cannot help but respect his vision. Last October, when Tarantino's "Kill Bill Vol. 1 was released, moviegoers witnessed a cinematic effort like nothing they'd ever seen. "Vol. 2," which opened Friday, is no exception to the Tarantino rule; sure, the story is recycled from "Vol. 1," but this sequel is a film far removed from its antecedent.

"Vol. 2" is far more sophisticated and intriguing than "Vol. 1"; it offers an involving backstory, which the immediacy of the first film did not allow. And unlike "Vol. 1," which was a stylized, Kung Fu-esque romp, "Vol. 2" is more of a traditional Western flick, complete with cowboy boots, a good-guy-vs.-bad-guy plot and whistling showdown music.

The much-anticipated sequel delves deeper into the cryptic relationship between Bill (David Carradine) and The Bride (Uma Thurman), and offers a glimpse into The Bride's martial arts training. Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), her master and trainer, is both brutal and comical; one quickly understands why The Bride has a hard and calculated demeanor (and why she's so darn good with a sword).

In spite of a long-winded opening that would never have made the cut in "Vol. 1," "Vol. 2" follows a much more salient storyline and allows audiences to breathe in between fight scenes. Tarantino alternates between black and white and color film and weaves a disjointed chronology throughout Vol. 2; flashbacks intermingle with present time, while other scenes have a split-screen effect to highlight the two perspectives of a one-on-one battle.

Thurman is even better the second time around. Her emotional range is displayed with much greater depth; yes, she still puts on a good fight, but in "Vol. 2," she also offers up a convincingly good cry. One scene in particular -- a black and white flashback of her wedding rehearsal that appears early in the film -- shows Thurman at her most sly, angry and vulnerable, all at once.

Those expecting an action-packed, exceedingly gory sequel should be aware that "Vol. 2" is a more psychological, slower-paced and expositional film than the first. Without the gruesome Japanimation and comically bloody fight sequences that dominated Vol.1, Vol. 2 is far less elemental than its predecessor -- which isn't to say that it's not as enjoyable as the first film.

Indeed, hard-core fans need not be distressed that "Vol. 2" is such a departure from the first "Kill Bill" installment; rest assured, there are several brutal fight scenes (blood, eyeballs -- you name it) to make up for the restrained flow of action. Moreover, Michael Madsen and Darryl Hannah -- who portray the last living members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad -- both deliver fine performances, rounding out a brilliantly cast group of actors.

Ultimately, The Bride must get her revenge. She cannot do so, however, until she has accrued the necessary strength and self-awareness that she has been seeking since "Vol. 1." By creating a sequel with such skillfully tempered design, it is clear, at least, that Tarantino has found his strength.

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