The fight’s sad, violent end reminds us that even though the Bride is a character with protective instincts and a sense of humor, she is, above all, a ruthless warrior.
While Kill Bill: Volume 1 was a mash-up a variety of Asian and American action film genres (personified by Lucy Liu’s character, O-Ren Ishii, a Chinese-Japanese American), the comparatively underrated Kill Bill: Volume 2 plays out like the beautiful, blood-soaked baby of a spaghetti western and a samurai epic. And while Volume 2’s showdown between Uma Thurman’s Bride and the titular Bill serves as the emotional climax of the Kill Bill saga, the action climax of Quentin Tarantino’s pair of revenge films is the Bride’s trailer-set showdown with her one-eyed nemesis Elle Driver. In fact, it’s not just the best fight of the Kill Bill films or even of Tarantino’s career. It’s the best fight scene of all time.
By the time we get to this epic fight, we’ve seen the Bride mow down dozens of foes with her trusty Hattori Hanzō sword on her quest for vengeance. And we’ve watched Driver (played with murderous glee by Daryl Hannah) shoot a pregnant Bride with a machine gun on her wedding day (and then try to poison her in the hospital). It’s such a viciously over-the-top set up for a clash that in lesser hands it would feel cartoonish. But Tarantino makes their relationship real by filling it with jealousy, regret, and respect. He also times the fight perfectly. It begins directly after we learn – through a phone call between Driver and Bill – the Bride’s true name, Beatrix Kiddo. Up until this point in the saga, it had been beeped out. The Bride, seemingly invincible in the first film, has just been shot and buried alive by Bill’s brother Budd, who is then murdered by Driver with a black mamba snake directly before the Bride and Driver finally meet. They come together at the moment when the Bride is her most vulnerable but also her most known to us, and Driver is at her most evil.
When the Bride confronts Driver, the audience has been waiting for three hours in Kill Bill time (and six months, for those of us who saw them in the theater). We also know that Driver knows where the Bride’s daughter is and that she’s assumed the role of Bill’s lover and favorite assassin. And we know they’re going to fight.
And fight they do. They’re trailer-destroying, tobacco-spit-throwing, hair-pulling, toilet-dunking, samurai sword throwdown is a masterpiece of stunt work and choreography (Thurman’s stunt double, the formidable Zoë Bell, won multiple awards for her stunt work). But what elevates the fight from perfection to Best Ever is its horrific ending. As the fight nears its climax, we learn that Driver murdered the Bride’s beloved teacher Pai Mei after he plucked out her eye. Shortly after, Driver and the Bride meet swords in the trailer’s narrow hallway. Rather than end the fight with a punch, kick or slash of the sword, the Bride brutally snatches out Driver’s other eye. It’s a macabre and fitting end to their rivalry, and the feeling we’re left with as the Bride shuts the now-blind Driver in the trailer with the poised-to-strike black mamba is exhaustion rather than exhilaration.
The fight’s sad, violent end reminds us that even though the Bride is a character with protective instincts and a sense of humor, she is, above all, a ruthless warrior. She is cut from the same cloth as the purposeful cowboys and samurai from which Tarantino drew inspiration. More than just a bone-crunching brawl, the fight between Elle Driver and the Bride reminds us that the best protagonists are shaded with darkness, that the best villains are driven by real emotions like jealousy rather than megalomania and the best endings come as a surprise.