".I wanted to go on an adventure. I wanted to go on the journey of a lifetime."
Quentin Tarantino is on a roll. He's already given us enough to fill a whole magazine, but now - and this is saying something - he grows more animated, words spurting from his motormouth like the bullets that have richoted across his earlier movie outings, arms waving like a young Magnus Pike on acid. Hey, with a show this good, just imagine the film!
" I wanted to remember this experience" he says, "and it was the adventure aspect, the journey aspect that was as important to me as a good movie."
That Kill Bill has been not so much a labour of love as a celebration of love for a particular genre is quite literally splattered across the screen. It is a spectacular homecoming. In making the movie that he most wanted to see, Tarantino has not only found himself, but has turned prodigal son to the legions of adoring fans who - perhaps unfairly - felt abandoned by the slightly more restrained, ever-so slightly less "Tarantino-esqe" Jackie Brown. With release dates for this much anticipated comeback being pushed further and further back, followed by the announcement that the film would be released in two parts, the fans knew he had to deliver or risk losing their affections forever. Fortunately for all concerned, Tarantino surpasses all expectations, and how! Kill Bill is glossy, violent, funny, violent, vibrant, violent, hip, violent, ad nauseum (particularly the nauseum).
It stars Uma Thurman as the nameless, pregnant "Bride", a former assassin shot down on her wedding day by her ex-lover and gang leader, Bill, who then wakes from a coma four years later, hell bent on revenge. This entails tracking down the members of her former gang, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DIVAS) (Vivica A Fox, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, and Michael Madsen) and executing them, one by one. In previous interviews, Tarantino has confirmed that the gang are based on "Fox Force Five", the fictional TV series that Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) did a pilot for in Pulp Fiction. The set piece of the film - the one where we see Uma Thurman dressed in that already almost iconic yellow tracksuit, wielding her samurai sword - is when the Bride takes on Lucy Liu's character, O-Ren Ishii, only to be confronted by her 88 bodyguards which she must take on single-handedly.
Tarantino, justifiably pleased as punch with this little scene, explains the artistic processes involved. "When it comes to doing the House of the Blue Leaves fight, when Uma takes out the Crazy 88 with a Samurai sword, I tried to think up every most inventive, entertaining way I could to dismember and disembowel and put to an end these bastards. You know I was out there trying to create one of the greatest, most exciting sequences in the history of Cinema. What do I wanna see? What haven't I seen? It took me about a year to write that sequence. One of the things I'm really proud of with that sequence, amongst other things, is that the movie doesn't stop while that scene goes on. There's actually storytelling going on in the course of that and that's the way I wrote it."
Tarantino has peppered the whole film with reverential references to classics of Japanese cinema, martial arts and 'grind' movies. The yellow tracksuit in question famously replicates that worn by Bruce Lee in Game of Death, while even the younger audiences will be aware that Chiaki Kuriyama, who plays O-Ren's sidekick Go Go Yubari, is wearing the same school uniform attire as she did in the recent controversial gorefest Battle Royale. Hey, there's the veteran of over 100 martial arts movies, Sonny Chiba, and even "Grasshopper" himself, David Carradine, the man responsible for - if you'll pardon the pun - kick-starting the early seventies love affair with Kung Fu in the TV series of the same name, plays the eponymous "Bill". Martial arts fans will feel they have died and gone to heaven with this meticulously detailed homage to the genre but - and this is what makes Tarantino a genius - this is a non-exclusive club. You do not have to understand the film's heritage to enjoy it. And that is down to well-crafted filmmaking, coupled with a healthy sense of perspective. Tarantino instinctively understands movies, and how they work, because he loves them. He is his own biggest fan. With Pulp Fiction firmly entrenched in the syllabus of many a film student's degree programme, the work an exercise in clever narrative structure, it is refreshingly ironic that Tarantino clearly understands the mechanisms of film theory and then disregards it. Tarantino is that third year student filmmaker armed with a multi-million-dollar budget. One need only see Daryl Hannah in her white nurse's uniform, pockets, buttons, and belt haphazardly drawn on with black marker pen, to see what a ball he was having.
He says: "Volume 1 is the straight ahead, "sit on the edge of your seat", "wow, that was a night at the movies" kind of thing. It can be said, you know, (adopts pretentious luvvie voice) "what is the resonance?" And my feeling is, it's there but . you don't need it. When I watched Avenging Eagle and Five fingers of Death I wasn't thinking what is the resonance. I was getting off maaaaan. This was the shit, a'right. So that's where I was coming from. I think it's there but it doesn't have to be there. It's there if you want it. The resonance is there, but it's not straight ahead."
Fortunately for Tarantino, his cast seems to buy into his inimitable style of movie making. With a penchant for making Kill Bill the experience of a lifetime, and bent on living the martial arts movie dream, Tarantino moved his cast and crew out to the Far East, and when in Rome - or even China.
"One of the reasons I wanted to go to China was two-fold" He says. "One there's a vibrancy to Beijing that I was trying to capture, even thought the movie doesn't necessarily take place in Beijing. There's a vividness and invigoration to this Chinese cinema that I was aspiring to, that I wanted to get at. Also I wanted to shoot the Chinese way. And the Chinese way, as opposed to the American way is that they don't give a damn about the schedule. Because films are cheap enough that you just shoot until you get it right, as opposed to the American way where the schedule is god. That's what I wanted, because I wasn't going to settle for anything other than one of the best action scenes ever made and that takes time, you know. If you're gonna make a giant omelette for every one in the room you're gonna have to break some eggs."
Julie Dreyfuss, who plays Sofie Fatale, came close to being one of those eggs. "it was the last day of shooting in China", she explains, "and the production had decided to move to LA so everything was packed up. The special effects people and their make-up had been packed up and flown back to LA so there was no more American blood in China. We ended up doing a scene at the last minute and the make-up artist was just nicely spraying my face to make me look beautiful and Quentin is standing there like, "More," and she'd put on a few more droplets and he'd say, "more", and finally he lost patience and picked up this big bottle of Chinese blood - it's very different - and emptied it on top of my head. I couldn't see what I looked like inside the boot of the car but when I got out, all you could see were the whites of my eyes."
She's laughing as she tells the story. Tarantino seems bemused and points out "We're not asking for base, we're asking for more blood! She's just got her arm cut off for Christ's sake. It wasn't the American blood or the Japanese Blood, it was THE CHINESE BLOOD which means that after you wipe it off, it stains. She had like a birthmark and pigmentation."
Having reignited the careers of John Travolta and Pam Grier, establishing Samuel L Jackson as the king of cool, and giving Bruce Willis one of the most critically acclaimed roles of his career, Tarantino must be relieved that the star-reviving gold dust has settled closer to home this time. Although maybe not. He's rich enough already and he just loves playing with all the toys in the film box. With Volume Two set for release early in 2004, the stakes are higher as the greedy fans taste blood and want more.
"The thing about volume 2" he says "is that there is a personality change that happens between volume 1 and volume 2. If you see the film, just at the end of it when Sonny Chiba gives that little parable and says revenge is never a straight line, it's like a forest and like a forest it's easy to get lost and to lose your way and forget where you came in. Volume 1 is the straight line. Volume 1 is the straight-ahead. Now is the forest. Now it's easier to get lost and lose your way as far as the Bride's journey is concerned. Now we slow down a little bit and spend some time with the characters a bit more. It's not just one, two, three. Her real life rears its ugly head in terms of her journey and she must deal with it."
As art mimics life then, how has this cinematic journey back from the film wilderness affected Tarantino? There is certainly a sense of gleeful joy emanating from this particular movie, despite its OTT pop-culture subject matter and treatment, that seems to stem from a new found maturity on the part of the film maker. Tarantino appears to agree.
"One thing that was just as important to me, as opposed to it just being a cool movie, was I wanted to go on an adventure. I wanted to go on the journey of a lifetime and I wanted to remember this experience and it was the adventure aspect, the journey aspect that was as important to me as a good movie. As far as the other end. They can work together but they were equally important and I got it. I got the adventure of a lifetime and I'll probably not be the same because of it."