Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu
Duration: 100 min
First of all I'd just like to say how much I just love your work. I wanted you to know that. It's just, like, what you did then, there - whatever - was just, like, wow. Wow. And all that, wow, stuff. You, well. Amazing.
With any luck you've been lulled into a false sense of Being Quentin Tarantino. I can't see it otherwise, and I really like your work. No, like isn't nearly strong enough. What I won't tell you is that, between pals, some of the stuff you've done lately sucks.
But obviously I don't expect you to heed this advice, as no-one else's going to tell you their little secret either. Manga sequences can be phenomenal, but only in Manga films. Enter The Dragon is a classic in the "cult" sense, as is everything that occupies a sacred space among the uniquely naff. A melding of the two carries the hallmarks of extreme dodginess. But that's excluding the 'classic' Tarantino effects that in the early nineties brought retro back to life. Brown was the new black, black already having been the new white and anything with dialogue that advanced the plot line was so, like, last decade. And that old maxim that a classic doesn't date is just cobblers. It dates perfectly, a true classic being the tactile representation of its age. And so if silly scripts, groovy soundtracks and washed-up casts in abysmal clothes are the true exemplars of the 1990s, they should have little to offer after 1999. But then, that's merely an opinion, and I really love your work. So everything's just fine.
And in truth it gets pretty close. Tarantino's a man of exquisite paradoxes, throwing up feats of genius wrapped in the clothes of banality, and proving in Kill Bill that the equation doesn't have to be one-way.
Like the first instalment the film revolves around the fight scenes, and by the first finale the director had perfected any skills that Reservoir Dogs and its offspring didn't require. As a fighting director, he's undoubtedly nudging Ang Lee about the top of the pile, but then he's always had a soft spot for a touch of violence. On the side of humour, too, Tarantino held sway comfortably over his peers for the dry, slothful drawl used to point out unhidden irony over moronic speech. But sentiment has proved a little tricky. It can't be bluffed, nor can it be swamped by slow- or fast-action camera work. It can be distorted, but only if the camera doesn't dawdle in the act as what remains is slush, a lukewarm treacle when you're still desperate for the main course. So it has to be played straight, and no tricks allowed. This again proves a problem for Tarantino, as characters such as "The Bride", the heroine of this mini saga, seem at once both fragile and impervious to reality. If she's a master of the martial art, so be it. If she's lucky, too, then more Brownie points and an extra star for good effort. But she can't seriously be such a paradigm of all virtues, have perfected the complexities of every virtue yet still be out for plain revenge while beating the drum for the Samurai codes of choice. She is portrayed as the living embodiment of successful guidance and still has nothing better to do than kill.
It's a Tarantino speciality to blend the absurd with the authentic, but the little problem of consistency that dogged the first volume hasn't been treated with any more caution in the second. The use of chapter headings quickly loses its token novelty value as, being alien to the convention of film and passive narrative, it has nothing to contribute. Of these, the eighth is the true thorn in Kill Bill's side.
Nabbing Gordon Liu to reprise roles from the very 70's fu-flicks that Tarantino is so desperate to ape may seem to be the sharpest stroke of genius but, to the sober at least, is the visible pinnacle of ennui. There's no need to show this old man repeatedly stroking his beard in such pitiless self-parody. As it was stylised then, and it's therefore a cult now. But if you can laugh at repeats of Monkey on late-night terrestrial hellevision then you'll have a slim chance of keeping mum in the cinema. Even for the invention of the most ignorant student, it's excruciatingly bad. Both actor and director simply don't know when to stop. To suggest that Tarantino is hostage to extreme Nigel Kennedy-esque descents from genius to embarrassing requires no further proof. The good is still great, but the poor should carry a health warning. Or a recommended ABV.
The additional insult of shooting in stunted 16mm only assuages the guilt you might feel for not agreeing with the director's belief that he's created the definitive episode in the history of filmmaking. And however much you may like your heroes to fly and achieve feats of magnificence, artistic licence should only stretch so far. Quentin's imagination and patent self-love don't concur.
Uma Thurman still has much to teach other actors when it comes to a plausible portrayal of pain, but when she slips, she does it with such aplomb that despite the normal rules of criticism, you have to blame the screenwriter for bestowing substandard lines. For most Tarantino fanatics this is clear and present sacrilege but sadly there's to be no debate: the man has tried too hard to be clever, and far too hard to be original.
The post-nineteenth century obsession of "pushing boundaries" carries the seal of brilliance, but is only of any use to anyone if those boundaries are obstacles. In this case, they're merely tools of communication, and disregarding accepted theses of language, development and pacing only sabotages the drama. For a director mired in and "paying homage to" the works of others beyond the accepted point of blatant plagiarism, not heeding Hitchcock's adage of the audience confused and so not emoting, is a few degrees below unforgivable.
The chances of reprieve are many but so are those opportunities missed. By placing the dramatic importance of fight scenes above the measure of human drama he's created a movie that cannot convince to the heart as too often you've got to blink at the astonishment of what you're watching. This is not to say the present President of the Cannes council cannot muster a tearful scene, far from it. Volume 2 is replete with seriously pathological moments. The tragedy is that he'll place it between scenes of gratuitous violence or incredulous nonsense, and resultantly it's hard, between the breathtaking combat sequences, not to feel that you're just in a public viewing of private jokes.Kill Bill, in either of its two volumes, is neither real nor surreal. It concerns itself neither with real life, nor real death. The protagonists, from "The Bride" to Bill via the incessantly vaunted Hattori Hanzo, are a flat-packed cocktail of pastiche Manga heroes and Hollywood superheroes. Bill's closing eulogy to Superman is another in-joke that tries to be what Tarantino's film can't quite produce - the sum of its parts. Still, as anyone up for scrutiny in the French Riviera will tell you, without any fear of reproach nor rebuke, they love his work. And when you're fond of just being Quentin Tarantino, probably little else matters.
Trailers: QuickTime trailers at Apple website
DVD Extras: Making of. Chingon performance from the Kill Bill Volume 2 premiere. Damoe deleted scene.
Jump here to buy DVDs directed by Quentin Tarantino at Amazon UK
Many thanks to Zoe and the team from the Odeon, Esher.