Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is out to recapture his Pulp Fiction glory with an action-packed and extremely bloody revenge saga. It's such an epic project the writer-director had to split it into two parts. Alan Silverman has a look at Kill Bill, Volume 1.
Uma Thurman plays a skilled killer: a key member of the "Deadly Viper Assassination Squad" or "DIVAS" betrayed by her nefarious associates. Led by boss Bill, they attacked on her wedding day, leaving everyone for dead including the bride; but she lives, n-o-t only to tell the tale, but also to wreak terrible revenge in her quest to Kill Bill. Thurman says the story grew out of a chat she had with writer/director Tarantino a decade ago when they were making Pulp Fiction.
"He was talking about the great roles for women in genre film that had preceded women doing extraordinary things in mainstream movies. He was talking about 'revenge' films and this and that and I started talking about this character I wanted to play and what her name was and she was an assassin," explains Thurman. "He on the spot invented Bill right then that night. He said 'the main guy, the guy responsible is the [best] assassin and his name is Bill and the movie is called Kill Bill.' Right on the spot that came together that night."
The Kill Bill script borrows liberally from the kinds of movies that inspired Quentin Tarantino to become a filmmaker: martial arts fantasies cranked out by the Shaw Brothers Hong Kong studios, the ultra-violent Yakuza crime dramas from Japan and the "spaghetti westerns" by Sergio Leone and other European directors of the 1960s.
"This movie is about visual. I'm saying I'm going to go forward as a visual filmmaker," explains Tarantino. "I've always thought that the really great action directors are the most cinematic of directors. They're the ones who come the closest to pure cinema and I wanted to throw my hat in that ring. There was a conscious decision, n-o-t to downplay the dialog and actually I think the dialog that's in it is pretty good and I'm proud of the fact that the most 'Quentin' dialog is in Japanese, but there was a decision to kick up my game visually. I said I'm going to come up with a visual style to match what I've done in the other films."
Where Tarantino goes beyond his other films is in the level of on-screen mayhem from bloody beheadings and dismemberments to brutal beatings and gruesome shootings.
"It's a 'Quentin' movie and violence is part of his vernacular," says Thurman.
Uma Thurman believes the outrageous scale and fantasy elements make clear the violence is n-o-t real.
"I have a very [low threshold] for real violence. I can't divorce myself when I watch movies and I identify with the experience of the people and they're having a really bad time," she says. "It's so painful for me. I'm the first person with my hands over my ears. I can't take the sound of a real anguished cry; it just goes right through me and I feel it. He's the only person I've ever made films with that are violent. He has an incredible way that he walks the line with it. It's a fantasy. It's n-o-t real violence. It's surreal. It's absurdist and, like Pulp Fiction, I was surprised that it didn't disturb me like real violence depicted can disturb me."
Tarantino himself prefers to describe his film as 'action' rather than violence.
"It's easy enough to make a line between action and violence, but the stuff that I'm doing … the violence I'm doing okay, I'll actually use the ' v ' word, all right I make a connection with movie musicals. If I'm saying action sequences are one the most cinematic things you can do, right next to it would be musical sequences: when the right killer song and the right dance and the right use of editing comes together," he says. "The thing about it is there's a whole lot of people who don't like musicals and they don't have to, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't make musicals. To me, it's just the same thing; I'm n-o-t really killing people. This is just cinema, dudes."
Kill Bill Volume 1 also features Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox and Julie Dreyfuss. The story concludes when Volume 2 comes to theaters next February.