Quentin Taratino’s Kill Bill could very well be a distillation of his entire career. A two-part revenge story that references numerous exploitation films of the past while simultaneously raising the material to a level not normally associated with such fare. From an original screenplay that weighed in at around 190 pages, Tarantino seemed to be unwilling to cut any of it down to where it would be a comfortable two-hour film, so the decision was made to first film the entire thing and then later to split the film into two volumes to be released six months apart.
This past weekend, I had the rare privilege to view both halves of Kill Bill edited back into its original epic-length configuration. Titled Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, the print was Tarantino’s personal assemblage of both films back into one four-hour roaring rampage of revenge that the director constructed to screen at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival just months after Vol. 2 had been released to theaters. It is the only print in existence and Tarantino has only lent it two or three times in total over the last decade.
Amongst fans of Tarantino’s work, there seems to be a bit of a mystique about The Whole Bloody Affair, probably due to its unavailability. Is there much more violence? Are there scenes that were deleted from Vol 1 and Vol 2 that have been added back in? Was splitting the movie into two volumes ultimately a good or bad idea?
To be honest, there are not many changes to be found between The Whole Bloody Affair and the individual Vol 1 and Vol 2 and many of the changes that are to be found are strictly cosmetic. Of note, though, the very first obvious change is the omission of the “Klingon proverb” from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan about revenge being a dish best served cold that opens the film. In its place is a dedication to “Master Filmmaker” Kinji Fukasaku, who had died in January 2003 as Tarantino was in the process of post-production for the films. It is Fukasaku’s Samurai Reincarnation (1981) that Tarantino is quoting when he has Hattori Hanzao (Sonny Chiba) state in reference to the sword he has made for the Bride “If, on your journey, you should encounter god, god will be cut.” (Reportedly, this dedication was on the Japanese release of the film.)
The most obvious difference comes in the Showdown at the House Of Blue Leaves segment. Tarantino famously had to present a portion of the bloody sword battle between the Bride and the Crazy 88s in black and white as a way to placate the MPAA ratings board over the amount of blood in the scene. The Whole Bloody Affair restores the sequence to its originally-shot color, as it was seen in other territories. (There are also additional action beats that were previously unseen in the US Vol 1 edit.) Also reportedly carried over from the Japanese release are a few extra moments of gore in the animated “Chapter 3: The Origin Of O-Ren” and a quick shot of the Bride chopping off Sofie Fatale’s second arm.
The second half of the Whole Bloody Affair rightfully omits the short black-and-white introduction from Vol 2 in which we see the Bride driving and recapping the audience on the first film. Tarantino’s early draft of the screenplay placed this scene at the start of the film and he smartly repurposed it for the opening to Vol 2 once the split was made. It is interesting to note that Tarantino doesn’t restore it to its original position at the front of the film for The Whole Bloody Affair. Was it a decision that came as he was compiling the edit for Cannes or had he already decided to jettison the scene before the film was initially split and then realized that he could use after all for Vol 2?
Perhaps the biggest structural change stemming from the film being one unit instead of two comes right at what we consider the end of Vol 1. The Showdown at the House Of Blue Leaves has concluded and the Bride has taken Sophie Fatale to the hill overlooking the Tokyo hospital and dumped her off so she could deliver her message of warning to Bill. It is at this point that the Whole Bloody Affair cuts to black and then a short intermission. However, Vol 1 continues with a short, minute-and-a-half segment that shows the Bride compiling her “Death List Five” and a few moments from Vol 2 featuring Budd and Elle Driver before the film concludes with Bill’s line “Is she aware that her daughter is still alive?” It is an emotional gut punch of a cliffhanger and gives the second volume some needed dramatic tension with the audience knowing something about her fated appointment with Bill that the Bride does not. Unfortunately, it is to the second half of the Whole Bloody Affair’s detriment that this dramatic tension is lost, as it is absence weakens a film that is already not as tightly focused as Vol 1.
Thematically, the two halves of the story are still dissimilar enough that if The Whole Bloody Affair played straight through it would still be somewhat jarring. Tarantino must have realized this as well and drops an intermission right at the break between Vol 1 and 2, though I feel that this was done more as a conceit to the Cannes audience rather than it being his original intention.
There is one unexpected upside to the two films being viewed as one, however. When taken separately, Vol 1’s opening song, Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang, Bang” and its repeated refrain “My baby shot me down,” only serves as a direct reference to Bride’s point of view that her “baby”/lover Bill has shot her down, leaving her for dead. But in the Whole Bloody Affair, the song is still strong in the audience’s mind when the Bride bursts into Bill’s Mexican hotel suite to find her child very much alive and pointing a toy gun in her direction. As little B.B. cries out “Bang! Bang!” the Bride falls to floor playing along with her baby who has shot her down, a musical foreshadowing lost in the two film version.
Ultimately, Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair is an interesting curio for a Tarantino fan to see, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table that couldn’t be found by importing the Japanese DVD version of Vol 1. If anything, it serves to highlight that the decision to split the project into two films was ultimately the correct one.