Do you know the origins of the “cliffhanger?” Today we are so used to novels and films being given to us in their entirety, but that was not always the case. Famous authors of the nineteenth century, like Charles Dickens, published their material in serial form. Some of the greatest writing known to Western literature was released piecemeal, and sometimes you would have to wait months to find out what happened to your favorite characters. This was done to ensure that readers kept coming back for more, and skilled writers knew how to play to their audiences’ desires. The term “cliffhanger” itself comes from when a popular character is literally left dangling from the edge of a precipice. That was how Kill Bill: Vol. 1 ended. We spend close to two hours seeing the Bride (Uma Thurman) cut her way through two members of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad in order to avenge what she believed to be the death of the daughter in her womb at their hands. If nothing else, people came back for Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) when Bill (David Carradine) reveals at the end of its predecessor that the baby survived.
Unfortunately, we must wait in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 for the payoff from the revelation at the end of the last one. Instead, the Bride begins by breaking the fourth wall, explaining her bloody quest of revenge from before as movie reviews described it, and telling us that she is on her way to do what the title suggests. In narration, she also clears up some misconceptions about the infamous massacre that sent her on this rampage in the first place. It had actually taken place during a wedding rehearsal, and the person she was supposed to marry, Tommy Plimpton (Christopher Allen Nelson), believes himself to be the father of her child. This is when Bill brings in his group of killers, murdering everyone present, though the Bride and her child survive. It is in this sequence that we get to see Bill’s face for the first time, though once that is taken care of it becomes a bit passé. We also have two more Deadly Vipers to take care of, and one of them, Budd (Michael Madsen), aka Sidewinder, is Bill’s brother. Budd had apparently become disenchanted with Bill, and moved into a trailer in the middle of the desert. He also took a job as a bouncer at a strip club, but thankfully they do not show any scenes during business hours. In short, life is pretty crappy for Budd. He gets fired for being late to boot, but when he returns home, he notices something is amiss. Hiding under his abode is the Bride. However, Budd lays a trap for her that results in him taking her precious Hanzo sword to sell to Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), aka California Mountain Snake, and bury her alive in a wooden coffin in a nearby cemetery. How will the Bride escape from this predicament? By remembering her tutelage under the strict Kung Fu master Pai Mei (Chia-Hui Liu). This is part of her training to become a member of Bill’s famous assassination squad with the codename Black Mamba. The ensuing flashback covers not only more of her relationship with Bill, but also how she learns to punch her way out of almost any situation. As she emerges from the grave, Elle arrives at Budd’s spread to give him the money for the sword. Unfortunately for Budd, Elle has boobytrapped the money with a black mamba snake, which strikes and kills him. Just as she is about to head home with her prize and the money, Beatrix Kiddo (the Bride’s real name is finally revealed when her archenemy, Elle, finally says it) kicks her way into Budd’s trailer. What follows is one of the grossest fights in cinematic history, and ends with Elle having her eye plucked out (the other having been taken by Pai Mei years earlier). This leaves Bill. After consulting with a mentor of Bill’s by the name of Esteban Vihaio (Michael Parks), Beatrix travels to his location only to finally learn the shocking news that her daughter is alive. Beatrix’s quest for vengeance is momentarily derailed as she has no desire to murder BB’s (Perla Haney-Jardine) father in front their daughter. They have a touching reunion, but after Beatrix puts BB to bed it is back to the mission. However, Bill has the jump on Beatrix and shoots her with a truth serum in order to get some lingering questions about their relationship answered. With that aside, there is a brief exchange of sword cuts before Beatrix is able to slip in Pai Mei’s infamous five point palm exploding heart technique. Five steps later, Bill is dead and Beatrix is able to leave with her daughter, finally living out her dream of being a mother.
What I appreciate most in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 are the scenes with Pai Mei. As somebody who has studied martial arts at one time, I could identify with the scenes where Beatrix is not only learning the moves, but performing mundane tasks designed to break her down so that her teacher can build her back up. Outside of the military, this kind of molding of others seems to be frowned upon today. Still, when viewing it recently I watched as she trudged up steps shouldering buckets of water, understanding the task at hand. We demand to know everything about what is going on at all times, and this makes the Faith life hard. I will readily admit to not being immune to the desire of wanting to know clearly what the future will bring, personally and generally. When we cannot see the point of repeating a task over and over, we tend to rebel. I believe many Catholics fall away from the Faith because they cannot see a reason for saying the Hail Mary prayer for the thousandth time. The notion is that their life will not change one way or another with or without reciting said prayer. It is hard to see spiritual growth, and some of us may never enjoy the fruits of our labor until after we die. To be clear, God loves us all no matter what we are doing. Saying your daily Rosary is like adding a few extra words of adoration for a loved one, in this case being God who hears all things private and public. By saying these prayers, no matter how boring it may seem, it prepares us for something greater, just like Beatrix punching wood came in handy when it was time to save her life. Prayer can do that, too.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is much tamer than its predecessor. Given some of the overlap and the way the credits are handled in the sequel, it is apparent that Quentin Tarantino wanted this to be one movie. But what modern audience is going to sit through a four-hour film. Still, the sequel provides a welcome contrast to the first, and I find it touching when, at the end, Beatrix is crying, clutching one of BB’s stuffed animals, and thanking (what I assume is God) for bringing her daughter back to her. I still would not recommend the movie to general audiences, but it is a nice ending.