In anticipation of Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, released on 14th August, we're recapping all his previous films.
Following our recap of Kill Bill Volume One, we're taking the second instalment of his rip-roaring rampage of revenge in the form of Kill Bill: Volume Two.
What’s the story of Kill Bill: Volume Two?
Having already dispatched enemies like O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the avenging Beatrix aka The Bride aka Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) is closing in on her ultimate target: Bill (David Carradine).
He’s the man who left Beatrix for dead at her wedding, but before she can get to him she has more targets to eliminate, namely her old nemesis Elle Driver/California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah), and Budd (Michael Madsen). And Beatrix is also about to make a surprising discovery that will change the entire philosophy of her bloody revenge saga…
How did Kill Bill: Volume Two get made?
Released in 2003, Kill Bill: Volume One split opinion between those who believed Quentin Tarantino be indulging himself, and those who took great relish in said indulgences.
The operatically gory throwback to 1970s ‘grindhouse’ cinema and low-budget martial arts efforts was originally intended to be presented as one big movie. But thanks to the intervention of producer Harvey Weinstein, Tarantino was compelled to slice the film in two, not unlike many of the movie’s characters.
Nevertheless, the movie was a commercial success, grossing $180 million worldwide against a $30 million budget (figures via Box Office Mojo). Come 2004, Kill Bill: Volume Two arrived to resolve the narrative threads established in the first instalment, but would it be possible to sustain audience interest given the six-month gap between the two parts?
Somewhat less violent than its predecessor, Volume Two, which adopts a similar non-linear structure, switches up the tone somewhat to become more playful and comical. These include the amusing flashback scenes involving Beatrix’s mentor Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), whose tendency to portentously flick his beard are accompanied by crash zooms very much in the vein of Tarantino’s influences. (Bizarrely, the character was originally going to be played by Tarantino himself.)
Of course, Volume Two finally unveils David Carradine as Bill, heard off-screen in the previous movie. (The role was originally written for Warren Beatty, but when he declined the part was re-written to suit Carradine's strengths.) The casting of the B-movie favourite as Beatrix’s former mentor (and, it’s assumed, her former lover) is another frame of reference that screams Tarantino: Carradine is perhaps best known for playing Kwai Chang Caine in cult 1970s TV series Kung Fu, referred to by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.
Unlike the action-oriented Volume One, this section of the story also allows for more character development, particularly in the scenes involving the newly pregnant Beatrix. Tarantino and Thurman first began to develop the idea after working together on Pulp Fiction, before production on Kill Bill was later delayed by Thurman’s pregnancy. The director credits this intervention with the development of Beatrix’s character in the script.
"If I had written it there, I probably would have based it on the Uma of that time: a 22-year-old girl," Tarantino told IGN. "So maybe none of these aspects would have fitted into it. And I've gotta tell you that, in the writing process, I didn't really know that B.B. (The Bride's daughter) was alive for like the first year of writing it. Because I write until I get to the end, all right? It was only in the last four-five months of the writing process that I realized that B.B. was alive. Until then, I was like Uma's character. I didn't know, and I was just going on getting revenge."
Tarantino explains: "It took me a year and a half to write the script and I spent that year and a half hanging out with Uma. I was living in New York, writing it there and we were just doing it together. We're hanging out and a lot of things had changed with her, so I was getting to know her all over again, her rhythm of speech and that kind of stuff you want to do as a writer. And, while getting to know her, I'm getting to know Maya, her daughter, and I'm being warmed by that... And during that time, Uma was a mother, that's what she did. So, as you start learning about her, that's what you start taking away."
Towards the end of production, the strong bond between Tarantino and Thurman was tested when the actress crashed a car into a tree. It was intended as nothing more than a relatively simple shot of Beatrix driving down a road, but the already reluctant Thurman had to be coaxed into doing it by Tarantino, with a disastrous outcome involving damage to Thurman's neck and knees.
In 2018, following the disgrace of former Tarantino collaborator Weinstein (who was responsible for elevating the likes of Pulp Fiction to prestige status, and whom Thurman accused of assault), Tarantino was able to secure the release of the crash footage at Thurman’s request. It had previously been kept under lock and key by Weinstein, whose Miramax production company distributed both Kill Bill movies.
"She asked, could I get her the footage?" Tarantino told Deadline. "I had to find it, 15 years later. We had to go through storage facilities, pulling out boxes… I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think we were going to be able to find it. It was clear and it showed the crash and the aftermath. I was very happy to get it to Uma."
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What music is on the Kill Bill: Volume Two soundtrack?
Whereas Kill Bill: Volume One mixed up pre-existing orchestral pieces and songs in a jukebox fashion, Volume Two shakes things up a bit.
Tarantino’s old cohort Robert Rodriguez, with whom he worked on From Dusk Till Dawn, wrote sections of score for the pricey sum of $1. Rodriguez produced the soundtrack album with Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, who occupied the same role on the first movie. (Tarantino later reciprocated by directing a scene in Rodriguez's Sin City for the same fee.)
"With Kill Bill I did score and songs, meaning that we put a lot of songs in [the movie] from old collections of records and I composed music for some scenes, natural music," RZA explained. "When we did Kill Bill 2, you know, we brought Robert Rodriguez in. Check this out, he took my music and he kept the foundation there, though. With Robert he didn't want to remove any of the electronic [sounds]. He said 'No.' I was like 'Take out all the electronic stuff, you know, so it can be [more like a traditional score].' He said 'No, man. I like the electronic stuff. This is the reason I wanted to do this.' So, he took the electronic stuff and kept it there, then built the orchestrations on top of it, you know what I mean?"
Nevertheless, there are plenty of old favourites littered throughout Volume Two. In particular, the celebrated Spaghetti Western scores of Ennio Morricone get a workout with the likes of Navajo Joe’s ‘Silhouette of Doom’ and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s ‘Il Tramonto’ making an appearance.
Johnny Cash’s ‘A Satisfied Mind’ sits alongside retro treats like Shaft composer Isaac Hayes’s title theme from 1974 movie Three Tough Guys. And Wu Tang Clan also contribute an instrumental track entitled ‘Black Mamba’.
What are some classic quotes from Kill Bill: Volume Two?
Elle Driver: "Know what I did? I killed that miserable old fool. I poisoned his fish head."
Bill: "There are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering b*****d."
The Bride: B***h, you don’t have a future."
Elle Driver: "Gargantuan. You know, I've always liked that word. I so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence."
Bill: "Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
How was Kill Bill: Volume Two received?
Released in April 2004, Kill: Bill Volume Two went on to gross $152 million – less than its predecessor, but vindication for those who worried the two-part structure would diminish audience engagement.
Critical reaction was somewhat split – many found themselves wondering what their reaction would have been had both instalments been released together. (Later in 2011, Tarantino did release an edit of the film as originally intended, plus an additional animated sequence, which screened at the Los Angeles New Beverly Cinema.)
Nevertheless, some critics like the late Roger Ebert argued that the presence of both halves completed the saga, regardless of the release strategy: "Put the two parts together, and Tarantino has made a masterful saga that celebrates the martial arts genre while kidding it, loving it, and transcending it. ... This is all one film, and now that we see it whole, it's greater than its two parts."
Both Thurman and Carradine found themselves recipients of Golden Globe nominations – another sign of Tarantino’s ability to mine artistic prestige from a post-modern riff on trashy B-movie material.
What was Quentin Tarantino’s next movie?
Grindhouse pastiche Death Proof starring Kurt Russell is the next instalment in our Tarantino retrospective – coming soon on the blog.