Friday, January 27, 2006

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Kill Bill posterPerhaps surprisingly, at the end of a two-part movie extravaganza that's so much a homage to pop culture Orientalism, the climactic "final chapter" of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill turns out to be a rather sedate melodrama in Latin American setting.

It's true that plenty of the preceding action has also taken place on the Southwestern frontier: Texas and Southern California. The shift south of the border is, then, not unlike the move in the Tarantino-penned From Dusk to Dawn from an extended crime sequence in the US desert to the occult sensuality of a Mexican biker bar.

Still, the sudden and (here) almost random displacement is jarring in both films.

And if From Dusk to Dawn depicts Mexico as a zone of affective intensity to speed up the pulse, by complete contrast for Kill Bill Tarantino chooses Latin America as the most suitable location to ease up on the accelerator and slowly bring his frenetic bloodfest to a halt. What we see here is a picture of rural indolence and domestic retreat.

The Bride (whose name has now been revealed to be Beatrix Kiddo) stops first in a flea-bitten bar in which the local whores lounge in hammocks or idly play cards. Here she meets Esteban Vihaio, who has been the eponymous Bill's father figure since the future contract assassin was only five years old. Vihaio is living out a comfortable retirement from his own previously hectic exploits, drinking rum and catching up on some reading. Meeting Kiddo, he takes the opportunity to reminisce about the past and how she might have been his girl when he was in his prime. But those days are long gone; and this sleepy Mexican village is a good enough place to lie low and pass what time is left.

And so on to Bill's lair, which is revealed to be some kind of condo in an upscale development that is in fact a converted hacienda. The complex boasts all mod cons, including a private beach--suitable if necessary for a sword fight. But no sword fight of any note results. Indeed, the violence here is mostly playacted or mediated: Kiddo bursts in on what turns out to be a childhood game of toy guns and playing possum, and is encouraged by the daughter that she had thought long lost to play dead, too; later, the two of them curl up in bed to watch a Shogun movie on video.

When the final confrontation does arrive, an initial flurry of violence is replaced by a truth-telling session in which the Bride explains how pregnancy changed her life and made her decide to give up contract killing. Bill himself relates his own tale of a broken heart--and fittingly, that is how he is finally dispatched, dying almost in his own time ("You look ready," Beatrix observes, putting her hand on his) of an injury with no outward scars. Striding out into the garden, his back turned, he slumps to the ground in the most unspectacular of all the many demises that Tarantino has represented hitherto.

But not before Bill provides us with one of the film's very few trademark speeches of pop philosophy that otherwise litter Tarantino movies such as Pulp Fiction. Bill explains that Beatrix and he are in fact like Superman: and only performing when they give in to normal human conditions of cowardice and fear.

So for all the domesticity, a US setting to the film's finale would be out of place: this drenching of hyped-up motherhood, larger-than-life parenting, far-from-senile superannuation has to be played out in the distorted mirror that is Latin America. Asia--the Japan of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 or the China of Vol. 2--is an almost inhumanly inhospitable world of absolute difference and brutal demands for perfection. Latin America, however, is like but not like, familiarly different: a good place for superheroes to play normal.

Esteban Vihaio
Because for all his Far Eastern obsessions, it's the South, and the Latin America that's so recognizeable from its many classic celluloid incarnations, that most resembles Tarantino's own colourful Movie-verse.

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Friday, January 20, 2006


[A service announcement...]

The hiatus will continue a little longer, I'm afraid; probably until mid-February.

But then I will be back in the groove, with a particular focus (for a while) on films dealing with Mexico and/or Chicanos.

So in anticipation, here's a frame from Mi vida loca:

girl with gun
[Here ends the service announcement.]