"You and I have unfinished business."
When Quentin Tarantino first announced that his eagerly-awaited kung-fu epic 'Kill Bill' would be divided into two films to be released a few months apart, the decision was greeted with skepticism by some viewers who, having heard that the project was originally scripted as a single film, accused the director of trying to bilk them into paying twice to see the end of one movie. This turned out to be a baseless complaint. Not only was the material too broad in scope and unwieldy to be contained within a two hour runtime, its separate halves are very tonally different than one another. Artistically, Tarantino made the right choice. Each volume of 'Kill Bill' plays stronger individually than if the two had been combined.
'Vol. 2' picks up after the vengeful Bride (Uma Thurman) has crossed the first two names off her "Death List Five" – the tally she keeps of her former colleagues in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who betrayed and left her for dead. Still deserving of bloody retribution are Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and of course Bill (David Carradine), her former mentor and lover and the man who put the bullet in her head. As she makes her way to wrap things up with this trio, we're also served an extensive flashback to The Bride's training with the mystical kung-fu master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, in a role derived from several Shaw Bros. films of the 1970s).
With 'Vol. 1', Tarantino had set about to make an all-out action movie. The first half of the story is breathlessly paced and features some amazingly elaborate martial arts action sequences. 'Vol. 2' is the more traditional Quentin Tarantino film. While it has a few impressive action scenes (including the grisly close-quarters brawl between The Bride and Elle), the picture as a whole is much slower, talkier and more philosophical. It also has a much lower body count. That disappointed many fans who expected more of the same from the sequel, but I've always appreciated both equally for their own merits. 'Kill Bill Vol. 1' is the very fun set-up and perhaps the more rewatchable of the pair, but 'Vol. 2' is the real meat of the story.
Tarantino has a knack for eliciting great performances from stars of limited acting range. Madsen is surprisingly sympathetic as Budd, the one-time cold-blooded killer now consumed by guilt. Daryl Hannah shines as the psychotic Elle in a way that she hasn't in any previous movie she's ever made. Carradine trades off his iconic role in the old 'Kung Fu' TV series and reveals layers of unexpected depth. The plot takes a slight detour for a little while as The Bride makes a trip to visit a character named Esteban, a former father figure to Bill, hoping to ascertain Bill's whereabouts. The scene is probably not essential to the story and might have been cut, but Michael Parks' intensely creepy delivery of the role is riveting. I was shocked to learn that the same actor played the small town Texas sheriff in 'Vol. 1'. His transformation is so convincing that I never recognized him.
About the only wrong note in the movie is a long-winded speech Bill gives near the end about his love of comic books. This is clearly Tarantino himself speaking through the character, and it feels false coming from someone like Bill. But this is a small complaint.
Taken together, the two volumes of 'Kill Bill' are the most ambitious and artistically invigorating films Quentin Tarantino has yet made. They play like a crazy collage of found art assembled in such a way that they form their own distinct image with its own meaning and relevance. His first three movies were all excellent in their own rights, but in the long run, I believe that 'Kill Bill' will be regarded as Tarantino's masterwork.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Kill Bill Vol. 2' comes to Blu-ray from Miramax Home Entertainment (a division of Buena Vista Home Entertainment), released simultaneously with 'Kill Bill Vol. 1'. Unlike most Buena Vista releases, the disc has no obnoxious promos or trailers before the main menu.
The Blu-ray contains only the American theatrical cut of 'Vol. 2'. The Japanese release (distributed by Universal in that country) contained a few extra seconds of random scenery footage during The Bride's trip to visit Esteban, but nothing that added any content of significance to the movie.
Just like the first movie, the 'Kill Bill Vol. 2' Blu-ray looks great in high definition and is a tremendous improvement over the DNR-infested and obscenely Edge Enhanced DVD edition. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is similarly presented in the movie's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is outstandingly sharp and detailed, and especially revealing of the weathered skin of characters like Bill and Esteban. It's also amazingly free of edge ringing artifacts.
Colors are bold and leap off the screen. The black & white scenes have perfect gray scale. The Pai Mei training sequences were deliberately shot to look like a 1970s kung-fu movie and are a little grainy and washed out by design. That's a stylistic decision, not a transfer flaw.
Also intentionally grainy is the black & white wedding chapel scene at the beginning. Whether it's the fault of Noise Reduction, a compression issue or something else, for some reason the footage there looks rather smeary in facial features. That isn't a problem anywhere else in the movie.
As with the first film, cinematographer Robert Richardson favors very contrasty photography with hot whites and deep blacks. Crushed shadow detail is again problematic, but less distracting in this outing due to the facts that more scenes take place in brighter settings and the characters wear less dark clothing. Despite a few flaws, the disc looks terrific.
'Vol. 2' features another fantastic soundtrack, again offered in either standard Dolby Digital 5.1 or uncompressed PCM 5.1 formats. Everything I had to say about 'Vol. 1' applies equally here. The resonant music, the thunderous bass and the cracking sound effects are just as flawlessly reproduced in the PCM track. Although not as aggressive as some movies, the surround channels are put to good use when they need to be. What stands out to me even more in the second movie is its striking contrast between quiet moments and loud moments. The sound mix maintains an excellent balance from one to the other. This is great work and I couldn't ask for better.
The majority of dialogue in the movie is spoken in English, except for the Pai Mei scenes that have Cantonese dialogue. The disc defaults to displaying English subtitles during those scenes. The subtitles are contained within the active movie image (not the lower letterbox bar) and are safe to view on a 2.35:1 Constant Height projection screen.
The Blu-ray carries over all of the bonus features from the DVD edition. Unfortunately, the DVD didn't have much.
I'm sure that a number of people will decide to pass over the Blu-ray releases of both 'Kill Bill' volumes while they wait for the mythical 'Whole Bloody Affair' consolidated edit (which would be owned by The Weinstein Company if it ever came to pass). Have fun waiting. As with the first film, my only disappointment with the 'Vol. 2' Blu-ray is its lack of supplements. On the other hand, the disc has great video and audio, and is a huge improvement over the awful DVD. Highly recommended.