The cult film star, David Carradine, was recently in town to promote his new film “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” The film was directed by the patron saint of film geeks, Quentin Tarantino. It was originally supposed to be the second half of a single “Kill Bill” film.
Both films will be eventually be released as one DVD package, but “Kill Bill Vol. 1” was recently released alone on DVD. The DVD doesn't have nearly enough interesting extra features, but Vol. 1 itself is a four star movie.
“Kill Bill Vol. 2” was slightly less stylistically daring and over the top than the first one, but it has far better character development. “Kill Bill Vol. 2” has its share of classic sequences such as the burial scene, and the bride's romantic/violent confrontation with Bill. I gave the film 3 1/2 stars in my Star review, and it may make my 2005 top 10 films of the year list.
Carradine plays Bill, the elusive leader of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a role that ideally uses his talents. Originally Warren Beatty was cast in the role, but Tarantino kept telling Beatty to play the role more like David Carradine would until Beatty finally told him he should just hire Carradine.
I met with the former star of the “ Kung Fu” television series at the Four Seasons hotel with a several other Chicago film critics for an intimate round table discussion.
Carradine was the very definition of cool itself. I got the impression that he would remain unperturbed even if he were in the middle of an earthquake or typhoon, but that may just be part of the public persona he is trying to project.
He seemed to be fairly eccentric. He was all dressed in black and spent the first few minutes of the discussion time playing an exotic bamboo flute similar to the one he used on the "Kung Fu" series and "Kill Bill Vol. 2". Carradine said that that the instrument was essential if you want to play a love song.
Carradine has traveled widely and his interests are quite varied. He also sings, sculpts and he has done tai chi, kung fu, and kick boxing instructional videos. One gets the impression that he would almost rather talk about world music, other cultures, or martial arts more than film.
Originally, Carradine wanted to be a musician. He studied piano and music theory in college. One day he was practicing piano across from some actors going over lines and one of them asked Carradine to be in a play he had written. He agreed.
Carradine had to wear face paint for the role one day. For some reason, this attracted his girlfriend who kept kissing him in her car. This made him decide to take up acting as a profession.
Bill's character is always hovering in the background, but he does not appear on screen much in the first “Kill Bill Vol. 1 (he takes a more active role in the second one).” Carradine said that Tarantino did this in tribute to Orson Welles's film noir classic, “A Touch of Evil.” In that film, Welles did not introduce the villain (played by Welles himself) until the second half.
“Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2” both have many visual scenes and lines that refer to other films. Carradine said “Quentin doesn't call it homage he calls it stealing.”
The film “Pulp Fiction” seemed to foreshadow Tarantino's involvement with Carradine when Jules (Samuel Jackson's character) suggests he may quit the mob and walk the earth like the Caine character in the “Kung Fu” TV series. The first season of “Kung Fu” has recently been released on DVD.
Carradine said that he and Tarantino share many of the same interests and that “Quentin is the best director I worked with.” That's quite a statement considering that he also did films with Igmar Bergman ("Serpent's Egg"), George Roy Hill ("The Long Riders'), and Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha”).
One of Scorsese's other early films, “Mean Streets” was successfully revived, and Carradine said that “Boxcar Bertha” is also ripe for a revival. That film is an entertaining and fast paced “Bonnie and Clyde” knockoff that was produced by Roger Corman. It stars Carradine's ex wife Barbara Hershey, who was once in a band with David and his brother, Bobby.
That film was heavily cut and Carradine said “Boxcar Bertha is good but it's not the movie that Scorsese wanted to make. He added, “ No one knew Scorsese would blow up and be so big. They might have thrown out all the unused “Boxcar Bertha” footage.”
Carradine did not rule out directing a film himself in the near future. He directed “Americana” which was critically acclaimed but it did not make tons of money. He had to finance the film himself and it consumed much of the fortune he had made on “Kung Fu.” He may consider directing another film if he doesn't have to bankroll it.
He has already had quite a successful and eclectic career with lots of ups and downs, Lately he has mostly appeared in obscure and forgettable fare such as “The Monster Hunter” and “Crime School.” “Kill Bill Vol. 2” is sure to raise his stature and help get him some higher profile roles.
Review of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (this review appeared in a slightly different form in “The Star”)
As an action director, Quentin Tarantino is without peer in the USA. His direction of "Kill Bill Vol. 2" is as breathtakingly beautiful and as skillfully shot as the first installment. The action film continues the story about a former assassin who takes revenge on the people that killed her whole wedding party.
It's slightly less fresh than "Kill Bill Vol. 1 and its peaks are not quite as high. But it's also shorter and seems less overstuffed.
Tarantino is a great action auteur whose films walk the thin line between high art and trash. No one occupies the same niche in American film culture, although Kevin Smith came closest with "Dogma" and "Chasing Amy."
It's hard to remain neutral when it comes to Tarantino. Viewers are either completely repulsed by his frequent use of violence or hypnotized by his dazzling technique.
"But "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs," Kill Bill: Vol. 1," and "Jackie Brown" are among the best films ever in their respective genres. Most of his other films such as "True Romance,' and "From Dusk 'Till Dawn" also have great moments.
There are definitely some Asian film makers (such as Wong Kar Wai, Takeshi Kitano, and Ang Lee) that can do action as well, but Tarantino is without equal in the United States.
"Kill Bill Vol. 2" has many key features associated with Tarantino's style. The film features 'B" movie actors in prominent roles; an exhilarating '70s soundtrack that reflects and reinforces what is shown on the screen; and self conscious lines of dialog that call attention to the artificially of the story.
The film is told in non-linear fashion and this too is a hallmark of the Tarantino style. "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" is both a prequel and a sequel to the first Kill Bill film. The opening black and white sequence takes place both before the first film and the ending takes place after it.
"Vol. 2" features a fine cast that includes several forgotten or underrated actors such as Daryl ("Blade Runner") Hannah, the Chicago Born, Michael ("Reservoir Dogs") Madsen, and Chia Hui Liu, the martial arts master who starred in "Shaolin Drunken Monk (1982)."
Dave Carradine (of the old "Kung Fu" TV series) has never been used so well. His performance as the bride's main adversary/potential love interest completely hits its mark.
But Uma Thurman clearly dominates and makes the film. She brings a perfect blend of strength and fragility to the role. Her chameleon like changes in appearance are uncanny. She is sometimes lit up to look like a goddess figure and other times she resembles a common street thug. Very rarely has an actor and director worked as well together as Thurman and Tarantino (the Gong Li/Zhang Yimou partnership is the only recent example that comes to mind.)
Thurman plays the bride, a former assassin who was a member of an elite squad of assassins called The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DIVaS for short). The bride tried to give up her violent lifestyle to marry a record storeowner. But on the day of the wedding rehearsal, Bill and DIVas assassinate all the guests. The bride spends months in a coma; she dedicates her life to getting revenge on her former friends turned foes.
In her mission she relies on her superb marksmanship, excellent martial arts skills and a special sword that was forged by a samurai master. We see some fascinating scenes of some training at the hands of a masochistic master. He mercilessly pushes her to test her physical and psychological limits.
The bride continues to cross the names of her targets off her list as she gets rid of them. This time around she goes up against Elle (Hannah), Budd (Madsen), and Bill (Carradine).
Bill is in charge of the hit squad. He sometimes comes off as an evil parody of the Charlie character from "Charlie's Angels" fame
At one point the bride is buried alive, and she escapes by drawing on her lessons in Asia
, and her excellent control of her mind and body. This "pseudo" resurrection scene certainly is done in a more creative and artful manner than the resurrection in 'The Passion."
The high point of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" is the final confrontation with Bill: the man who masterminded the wedding day massacre. There is considerable sexual tension between the two characters. From one minute to the next, we don't know whether they will make love or cut each other to ribbons.
The second volume is nearly as extraordinary, exciting and visually imaginative as the first one. But because of the sometimes-obscure film references, the film will be more meaningful to hard-core cinemaphiles than casual viewers. Films like this make me glad to be a critic.
Star Rating ***1/2
Note: In a recent commercial, a longhaired blonde goes to Benihana's and orders some food. She has a vivid fantasy about having a sword duel with the Asian waiter. The commercial was obviously inspired by "Kill Bill," and it even includes music that sounds like the Wu Tan Klan member's song that is playing in the Tokyo Mafia scene in "Kill Bill: Vol 1."
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