Pulp Friction

SYNOPSIS: On her wedding day in El Paso, the Bride (Uma Thurman), her unborn child and her entire wedding party are slaughtered by assassins. She alone survives, and after emerging from four years in a coma in a hospital (where her comatose body has been sold to redneck rapists), vows revenge on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which the Bride was once a member. Its leader is Bill (David Carradine), the father of her dead child. One by one, she tracks down her enemies: Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), now a housewife, and O'Ren-Ishii (Lucy Liu), head of the Tokyo underworld (whose own backstory is revealed in an anime sequence). To get to O'Ren, the Bride must take on her army of masked gangsters and her lethal associates. Tarantino divides his story--an homage to the samurai and kung fu movies, blaxploitation flicks and spaghetti Westerns of the '70s--into chapters, leaping forward and backward in time. "Volume 2" is due out in February.

DAVID ANSEN: All right. Let's start right at the start. In the opening credits, you did something very unusual: there's a card that reads "Quentin Tarantino's 4th movie." Has that ever been done?

QUENTIN TARANTINO: I don't think so.

When I saw that, I was amused--and I was worried. Because it hints at a sort of self-mythology.

[Laughs] I could see that, yeah.

But I really enjoyed this movie. I think the filmmaking itself is astonishing--the look, the camera moves.

I told [cinematographer] Bob Richardson, "Look, I want each reel to play like it's a reel from a different movie, all right? You take this reel from "Death Rides a Horse," and this reel from "Zatoichi's Revenge" and then that reel from a Shaw Brothers film. We didn't need one look to bring the movie together. What will bring the movie together is one voice--my voice, my personality--and Uma's image, all right?

One of the problems I had with the movie, though, is that there isn't much emotional subtext, mostly because you don't know the Bride's backstory--and you're not going to know it until "Volume 2."

Right, yeah. That was actually the only thought in my mind about why it could be a negative to split this movie in half. All of the resonance that you want from this story will be there, all right, after you've seen the tale all the way through to the end. You're right, it's not really there in the first one. But it's not really meant to be. It truly is action cinema boiled down to its most flaming arrow, all right, without any of the bulls---.

It's like when you're a kid, you say, "Oh, just give me the good parts."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, God, you could almost make a case that that's my whole theory in filmmaking: take out all the s--- that we've already seen a million times before, and that we never liked in the first place, and just get right to the good stuff.

But the good stuff we've seen before, too. Everything is recycled.

Oh, yeah, yeah. But it's recycled with a twist. It's me doing it, you know? With my point of view on it--which has never been done because mine is unique, all right? Not good or better. Just unique.

It is unmistakably yours.

I've always thought that even a great action director's time is about as long as a rock star's time. You know, they become old men fairly quickly. But for those 10 years they can burn really brightly. I did this movie to join their club immediately, all right? So for me, there was an aspect of, like, seeing if my talent has a ceiling. "Am I going to bump my head on that ceiling?" And if I do I'll know. And then people can say, "OK, stick with the snappy dialogue, Quentin." You know, stick with your strength.

Well, I think most people will come expecting that snappy dialogue, and they don't really get it, at least not in "Volume 1."

Well, you get a little bit, but it's in Japanese. I mean, it's definite Quentin dialogue, all right. And also, it will come in "Volume 2." What I've delivered is good enough for now. It leaves you wanting more. "Volume 1" and "Volume 2" are very different movies. "Volume 1" is this blast-of-adrenaline kind of thing. "Volume 2" is much more my dialogue, all right? The movie slows down a little bit. Sonny Chiba has a little speech where he says revenge is never a straight line, it's a forest. And like a forest, it's easy to get lost and forget where you came in. "Volume 1" is the straight line. "Volume 2" is going to get messy.

Let's talk about the violence. Now, I had no problem with the violence--it's all so stylized. But there's a lot of blood in the movie. There's a whole motif of spraying, spurting blood.

Well, that's the Japanese tradition. You know, people have garden hoses for veins. [Laughs]

Exactly; it's like the sprinklers are going off at Versailles. People get their arms hacked off and their heads hacked off. It's borderline comedy--I mean, it's a form of slapstick at times.

Yeah, most of that stuff is done for a comic effect.

One of the most violent scenes--the one that literally made me jump--is the sequence in the hospital when the Bride wakes from her coma, realizes an orderly has been selling her comatose body for sex--and slams a metal door repeatedly on the guy's head.

Yeah, because that's more violent than someone getting their arm cut off--it's hands down more violent. Because you could actually imagine it happening. I've always used an analogy that a beheading in a movie doesn't make me wince. But when somebody gets a paper cut in a movie, you go, "Ooh!"

The imagination that dreamed up that hospital sequence--which is yours--reminded me of the sequence in "Pulp Fiction," your grand guignol with the S&M guys.

I remember you didn't like that sequence when you first saw it.

That was my least favorite sequence in "Pulp Fiction." You remember that?

Yeah. You were let down by that sequence because you were saying, "OK, now finally when Quentin Tarantino is confronted with true evil he just resorts to horror-film shenanigans"--or something like that. It was much better written when you said it.

You remember it better than I do.

[Laughs] That's just me. Where I'm coming from in the hospital sequence is, once I got this idea in my mind, I couldn't get it out. It would be a lot easier if I didn't go down that road, but then that would just be cowardice to me. Because there have been reports about, you know, comatose patients being raped. And my feeling is, if Uma Thurman was in a coma for four years, and she's a Jane Doe, nobody knows who she is, nobody's visiting her, she's just a plant--I could imagine guys selling her. And once I came up with that thought, I couldn't let it go.

Let's talk about the action scenes. There's some brilliant action in "Kill Bill." One of the things that makes it effective is the sound. Those thumps and the crashing of the glass and the music--it's all incredibly visceral. There's a long, 22-minute chapter toward the end, which you call the "House of Blue Leaves" sequence, where Uma takes on virtually an entire army of people. To me the highlight of that sequence is Uma's battle with the schoolgirl-looking assassin, Go Go, and her mace.

Oh, yeah, I think so, too. [Laughs]

I mean, I've never seen that fight before.

That's my proudest moment of the movie, yeah. I give half of it to Uma and Chiaki Kuriyama. They do it and do it beautifully.

But at times I was disappointed with the action. In some movies, the action isn't really staged, it's merely edited. The worst offender would be "Charlie's Angels." Do you know what I'm saying?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know exactly what you mean.

It's all just all pieces, and it's all sort of faked.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Now I'm not saying you do that--but in a way you do. I just recently saw the Corey Yuen movie "So Close," which had some amazingly choreographed fight scenes.

I heard they're incredible.

They're very athletic, and you have the sense, more than you do in your film, that you're actually watching people do it--because there are fewer cuts.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And I wanted a little more of that in "Kill Bill."

You know, I thought I did that. I don't see these fight sequences as made up of a bunch of little tiny shots strung together, or where you cut to the table crashing to get you out of trouble, all right? I don't really think I'm editing to get us out of trouble. I hold the shots as long as the actors can bear it. I haven't seen "So Close," but I'll bet you I could pick out the stunt doubles in it, and you'd have a pretty hard time picking out the stunt doubles in my movie.

Yeah, that's true. And you're at the mercy of your actors and how much they can physically do--and what they do is very impressive. There's a lot of grace. This brings us to a more sort of philosophical concern I had about the movie and how it relates to your career. As I was watching it, I was having a good time and I was admiring the filmmaking, but I said to myself, "Is this a step backwards for Quentin?" In some ways you're retreating from everything that you started to get into in "Jackie Brown." This is the opposite of "Jackie Brown."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.

That had a sweet and tender side. You were exploring character and you were taking your time. A lot of people felt that there was a new maturity in that film. And with "Kill Bill" it's as if you're retreating to the safety of genre. What I missed, and I know you didn't intend it to be there, is that sense of humanity and character. There really aren't characters in this movie. It's almost like an anime.

Yeah, they're cool as opposed to deep.

Uma's character--and this is not a criticism of her performance, it's just the way the role is conceived--is a superhero. And to me it would be more interesting if there were more moments where she was also a real woman, and a vulnerable woman.

I disagree. When she wakes up from her coma, there's that one true, full bit of vulnerableness I give her, and I think it carries through the rest of the movie.

She breaks down and sobs when she--

--when she realizes her child is gone. And also, this'll sound like a cop-out, but more of that stuff comes in "Volume 2." As far as the first half is concerned, I didn't want to make her sympathetic. I wanted to make her scary, all right? But I think you end up liking her anyway. You admire her. Nothing is going to stop her.

In general, the movie seems postural and not behavioral. And to me that's sort of a limitation.

I do believe in growth as a filmmaker, but I don't think it's a daisy chain--that you take the harvest from the last one and expand on it a little further, all right? If I were to just keep expanding on that "Jackie Brown" thing, you know, in 15 years' time I would be making some really geriatric movies. The thing is, I don't need to prove that I can do that with each new movie--because I've already proven I can do that. This time I wanted to grow as a filmmaker by what I consider exciting filmmaking.

"Kill Bill" is all there on the surface, which is what's good about it, but it's also, to my mind, its weakness. I thought, "This is exactly the movie Quentin wanted to make. It's his greatest-hits movie."

Yeah, it's a greatest-hits album.

On one level, it's a very personal movie in that it's a reflection of your enthusiasm for the movies you saw in the '70s. But in another way, it's your most impersonal movie. It feels self-protected.

I obviously don't feel that way, all right, because to me this is a movie about passion.

The passions in your life?

In my life, yeah. If you're working from a true place as a writer, I always feel you should be just a little embarrassed when you hand it in, because you will be revealed. All that stuff isn't on the surface of this movie. It's buried inside of it. All I can say is, if I went and saw "Kill Bill," I wouldn't be able to even think about seeing another movie until I saw "Kill Bill" again. I'd feel like, "That's a movie like sex. That's a movie like drugs," you know? "I can't even think of another girl until I've had another piece of that p----. I've got to get high on that drug again, like, tomorrow."

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