As Kill Bill: Volume 2 marks its 20th anniversary this week, it’s an opportune moment to reminisce on the finest moments from Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked tribute to spaghetti westerns. Grab a cup of Pai Mei’s famous tea, sit back and read!

Buried Alive

Without a doubt, Kill Bill: Volume 2’s most memorable scene finds Uma Thurman’s Bride buried alive after a run-in with Budd (Michael Madsen). Tarantino shoots the entire sequence inside the wooden coffin, so we experience her fear and confusion throughout the ordeal. Eventually, the film jumps backward to a segment detailing the Bride’s training alongside the mighty Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), who imparts an important skill that allows her to escape from the coffin.  “Okay, Pai Mei,” she says as Ennio Morricone’s “Il mercenary (repress)” blares over the soundtrack. “Here I come.”

Budd

Those expecting a rehash of Kill Bill: Volume 1 were likely let down by Volume 2’s shocking twists and turns. Tarantino upends expectations at every turn, leading to a satisfyingly unique cinematic experience. At one point, the picture veers away from the Bride to focus on Bill’s downtrodden brother, Budd, who resides in a broken-down trailer in the desert. A lengthy chapter establishes his plight: he’s a broken man tumbling through life without much purpose. We expect the Bride to kill him without much trouble. Instead, when she attacks, he shockingly blasts her with a shotgun and buries her alive in the aforementioned sequence. Despite everything we’ve seen at that moment, Tarantino still knocks us off our feet.

Also, Budd’s character shows a man coping with his feeble existence. He has no control over his life, as Bill consistently makes his choices for him, right down to his Hitachi sword. Striking back at the Bride (who he admits deserves her revenge) gives him a chance to regain some semblance of control from his brother, adding a deeper layer to the situation.

The Bride vs. Elle Driver

Of all the fight sequences in the Kill Bill saga, the Bride versus Daryl Hannah’s one-eyed Elle Driver remains my favorite. Set inside Budd’s compact trailer, the vicious battle is equally intense and hilarious, kicking off with a POV shot of the Bride’s feet soaring into Elle’s chest just as she exits the camper. Tarantino greatly uses the tiny space that forces the two women to engage in close-quarter combat.

It’s a far cry from the visually spectacular fight sequences in the previous film but far more creative and memorable. The Bride and Elle chuck each other through walls, smash each other with lamps, and punch the living shit out of each other until they are quite literally dripping with blood. The Bride shoves Elle’s head into a toilet in a comical beat. Thinking quickly, the villain, desperate for air, flushes the toilet, allowing her to continue the fight. This bit never ceases to amaze me.

After all the blood and guts spilled throughout the Bride’s journey, her most memorable encounter is a war of words with the man she loves. 

Showdown with Bill

As stated above, Volume 2 is packed with expertly written twists and turns, so you’re never sure where the story is headed. We know the Bride must kill Bill at some point, but Tarantino ensures her quest includes as many violent encounters, shocking deaths, and philosophical discussions as possible.

Now, at first glance, the Bride’s climactic encounter with Bill might feel like a letdown. Tarantino dispenses with the blood and carnage in favor of an intimate, emotionally charged conversation about motherhood and love, their relationship, and their daughter. Eventually, the swords come out, albeit briefly. Still, this entire exchange revolves around Bill’s need for forgiveness—not just for his actions against the Bride, but for his overall person. “I overreacted,” he casually says about his attempt to kill her. “I’m a murdering bastard, you know that. And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard.” Moments later, the Bride destroys his heart again, quite literally.

The Final Scene

Whether deserving of a happy ending or not, the Bride achieves her goal of killing Bill and presumably gets to spend the rest of her days with her daughter. Of course, the Bride experiences a rush of emotion—pain, happiness, sadness, relief, exhaustion—that Tarantino captures in a brilliant overhead shot of his heroine weeping/laughing on a hotel bathroom floor. I’ve said this many times, but the fact that Thurman wasn’t recognized for her performance remains a terrible cinematic crime.

As much as I love Volume 1, her performance in Kill Bill: Volume 2 is the stuff of legends. Plus, it’s a damn good film.

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