For Tarantino, a film's not done till an audience sees it

The director watches `Kill Bill' the way a fan would

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

April 22, 2004|By Rachel Abramowitz | Rachel Abramowitz,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD -- Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, the 41-year old maestro of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and now Kill Bill Vol. 2, is perched in the family room of his Mulholland mansion, popping strange Japanese cheese munchies into his mouth and trying to explain that Kill Bill, which seemed like a chick revenge movie in Vol. 1, actually turns out to be a love story in Vol. 2. A twisted, cracked love story, to be sure, but "a legitimate love story, all right," Tarantino says.

"You're dealing with men and women and relationships in this weird alternate universe."

Indeed, the Bride and Bill, played by Uma Thurman and David Carradine, are the very embodiment of the adage "Can't live with 'em; can't live without 'em," and the stakes are high because both parties are trained killers.

Tarantino's demeanor is sweet and weirdly indefatigable as he nears the end of his 11-year saga with the Bride and Bill, the central characters driving the narrative in both volumes of Kill Bill. They were first hatched on the set of 1994's Pulp Fiction with Thurman, sent into cold storage until he ran into the actress at a Miramax Oscar party in 2000. Thurman asked whatever happened to their creation. He went home that night, dug out the 30 pages he'd written, and worked on it for the next four years, writing a 222-page script -- divided up and titled in 10 chapters like a novel; shooting for a marathon 155 days across Japan, China, Mexico and L.A.; editing one film; selling it across the globe; and then, like a page from Groundhog Day, editing a whole separate film, which debuted last week.

The sum of that effort -- all million or so feet of film -- now stands like his own private army in the family room.

The division of Kill Bill into two films was officially suggested by Miramax head Harvey Weinstein, and as a business decision looks provident -- the shooting cost $55 million, and the first installment alone has earned $170 million.

Fans are a big part of the Tarantino gestalt. He refers to them frequently. For him, a film is not finished until the audience sees it, not just a recruited audience, but "a bunch of people that can do anything in the world they want to do that night and what they'd decided to do with their night is go see your movie," says Tarantino. "It's all going in the right direction towards the screen, and it's just incomparable. Until I get that -- I'm not done."

At its heart, Kill Bill is a distillation of his own fandom -- an homage to the martial arts flicks and Westerns that he watched as a kid in the rundown movie palaces of Southern California. As Tarantino explains, Vol. 1 was an ode to the traditions of Japan, with a dash of Shaw Brothers Hong Kong flavor. With gobs of gore, it told the tale of how the Bride wreaked revenge on her former colleagues, the dastardly members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who mowed her down, on her wedding day, while she was pregnant no less, and left her in a coma.

Vol. 2 is "a spaghetti Western major with an Eastern minor," he says. The body count goes down to 13, and there are no more geysers of spurting blood. The challenges -- such as getting buried alive -- require more ingenuity from the Bride than slicing bravado.

He doesn't have favorite scenes from the film. That's like choosing among his children, although he cops to looking forward, even anticipating certain moments.

"This is one of my favorite shots in the whole movie. This shot of him walking forward," the director says. Gordon Liu simply glides purposefully toward the camera. Playing a character named Pai Mei, he's garbed in a white martial-arts tunic with a long white Fu-Manchu beard.

At this moment, Tarantino seems more the ardent fan than the director, thrilled to have landed a childhood hero, a star of such seminal Hong Kong flicks as 36th Chamber of Shaolin and The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter.

This is a classic moment from kung fu lore, where the hero learns how to be a warrior under the vicious instruction of a venerable and very old killer, Pai Mei. For Westerners, it's reminiscent of the Yoda scenes from The Empire Strikes Back.

Tarantino wrote many of the characters specifically for the actors who eventually played them, for Daryl Hannah, and Lucy Liu, who played Yakuza Queen O-Ren Ishii in Vol. 1, and most particularly for Thurman, whose wry, sweet cadences he stole for the Bride so the role would fit her like a glove. "I wrote it, but I read her everything I wrote, every scene, every rewrite, every fourth rewrite."

"We were truly partners on this," says Tarantino, although to be truthful, the person who really played the Bride, particularly during the writing of Kill Bill, was Tarantino.

"I'm a method writer," he explains. "That's what you do. You become the people and they become you. It's an equal trade. It can all relate to my life, or none of it has to relate to my life."

For film events, see Page 43.

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