Billed to kill

Out of all the films that Quentin Tarantino has made, Kill Bill (2003) could be considered as his baby given that it took 9 months to be filmed. I remember reading about the film while it was in production. Every time that I hear about Kill Bill or see snippets, I always think about how the Monkey Peaches site would keep myself and many fans informed on nearly everything that there was to know about the making of any Chinese film. Withstanding the onslaught of hype about the film, I was disappointed because not only was Michael Jai White’s fight scene taken out but I expected more from Lucy Liu given that she already had the experience of being choreographed twice by one of Yuen Woo-Ping’s younger brothers (i.e. Yuen Cheung-Yan). Anyway, here are some of my favourite news items which publicized Kill Bill

March 20, 2002

QT traveled to Beijing in early March to prep for shooting. While there, he talked with Beijing Youth. He said: “For an average script, you must first imagine what the action scene is then you shoot it. But my script is different – You can see all the actions. Action and fight scenes alone occupy 22 pages. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I not only had to make it better but also had to design each move as well as the momentum and the strength among the words. Each sentence must show feelings and strengths. I just wrote and re-wrote, for a whole year. The script has gradually been enriched and become more complete. If it was too hard to sort out connections between sections, I just left them blank and went to watch Hong Kong movies, watch Japanese samurai movies, to look for inspirations to fill my script. This process is painful and long. The final product is something totally original and something of my own.”

July 18, 2002

On the set, QT never watches the monitor but always follows the camera. Once every shot is completed, he always claps his hands and says something like very good. Half of the crew is from China and Japan. Among those, there are executive director Zhang Jinzhan (Life on a String, Farewell My Concubine, Temptress Moon), art director Cao Jiuping (Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, Shanghai Triad) and production Manager Zhou Wei (assistant Director of Happy Times and Hero). What has been shot in Beijing are all of the fight scenes which take place in Japan. For the epic Crazy 88 massacre, a Japanese company has been hired to make many latex dummies. Equipped with air pump and fake blood, the latter will be pumped out of the neck when the head is chopped off. The scene with The Bride walking in a washroom is also the most difficult one to make. Maybe because there are over 100 extras and it was shot in the first week when the coordination was still limited, the three and a half minutes sequence cost a whole day to make. Two women were hired to double Uma – one from America for distant shots and one from China for fight scenes.

Since shooting started last month, they have been working over 15 hours every day. Beijing production was scheduled to end on August 3, but because many action scenes are so difficult to make and so time-consuming, they may have to stay in Beijing for at least two more weeks (so that will be around August 15). Rest of the shooting will take place in Japan, Mexico and Los Angeles. Uma’s husband Ethan Hawke and their two kids are staying in Beijing with her. Some producers are also accompanied by their families. When asked about whether his success comes from living life or working at the video store, QT had said: “I think it’s from both, 50/50. Half of my inspiration is from life and the other half is from those movies I watched. Movies bring me passion to create, let me know today’s movie trend, and what’s happening in the movie circle. Life can keep enlightening me and inspire me, so I keep getting ideas from life.”

Interviewer: I saw many pigeons in the courtyard outside. Will there be any pigeon scene in the movie?

QT: (Laugh) No, No, No! I don’t know where these lovely creatures come from. I guess they are just some pigeons, dogs and rabbits being raised there. They are not related to the movie.

Interviewer: Pigeon is John Woo’s trademark.

QT: Right, right! So, there won’t be any pigeon in my movie.

Interviewer: I heard to make those gangster movies look real, you have talked to criminals, drug addicts, and even gangsters. Is that true?

QT: Except filmmakers, I don’t really know too many people. I create a character based on my personal experience. My gangsters are just characters. The so-called realism is only referring to the dramatization I put into my movies.

Interviewer: Judging from dialogues and plots of your movies, you are a specialist of Western Pop Culture.

QT: I love Pop Culture.

Interviewer: What made you decide to work with the Chinese – are you attracted by Chinese culture, or some other reason?

QT: I have very good impression on China. You can say I came here because I was attracted by Chinese culture, but the main reason is there are many Kung-Fu scenes. The Chinese are the authority of Kung Fu films. They know how to use stuff like wires to make exciting fight scenes, this is cool. I love Chinese style of jumping, punching and kicking.

Interviewer: Have you ever encountered any difficulty?

QT: (Weird laugh) I got pretty good relationship with Chinese officials. Our cultural backgrounds made us seeing and understanding movies differently, but I am an excellent diplomat. After all, I am a guest here. When dealing with disagreement, you have two choices: one is clenching your fists to play hardball, the other one is extending your friendly hand to shake with them and communicate with them. I chose the latter and got the invitation.

Interviewer: The character played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction is surprisingly similar to the character played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in À Bout De Souffle (a.k.a. Breathless). Do you agree?

QT: Uh…I really never thought about this question. This question is very interesting. À Bout De Souffle is one of my favorite movies and Jean-Paul Belmondo is a great actor. None of these two characters is able to control his destiny but I never tried to pursuit such similarity.

Interviewer: Pulp Fiction is sending a message about existentialism – dirty and ridiculous life, with destiny being controlled by random act. Have you ever done any research on such philosophy?

I have never intended to use my movie to show such philosophical thinking. I will never try to think what does this part mean and what this part about. Sometimes, doing so can put me in a very awkward position. I am just telling a story with some of my thoughts burying inside. I don’t want to be the god on the set, telling actors that their roles are vessels of some kind of thinking, doing this by this way and doing that by that way. I am just trying to let them give full play to their acting talent, and follow their roles. The existentialism you mentioned is kind of a state of living. It’s presented through events and objectively exists in the story.

Interviewer: In 1996, you refused to join Directors Guild of America. Why? It is really protecting the interest of your directors.

QT: I don’t want to be restricted by those rules. I won’t let anyone tell me I should do this, should do that. Join the Guild, and too many rules. They even intervene how you arrange the cast list. Inside the Guild, directors will be protected, but I can protect myself.

Interviewer: You enjoy freedom.

QT: I don’t want my thinking and style being distorted too much. Yes, I enjoy freedom.

Interviewer: You like movies by Jean-Luc Godard, Brian De Palma and John Woo, and call yourself “student of the world cinema.”

QT: That’s right.

Interviewer: What have you learned from them?

QT: Everything of mine, movie language or style, is from movies. I have learned a lot from others. I can get to know the trend of movies through them. At the same time, I can use my own experience to absorb from others, change it into something of my own, and present it with my own style. As a filmmaker, I must be open-minded, must study everything, and must be sensitive.

Interviewer: I don’t know whether you have seen Too Many Ways To Be No. 1. It’s done by a Hong Kong director named Wai Ka-Fai.

QT: It is an amazing movie which couldn’t be better. To say it got my style is my honor. That movie is perfect. It conquered me. It has a brand new and unique way to narrate, telling the truth of different choices leading to different consequences. The movie’s narration is brilliant, and the story is appealing, but the most classic thing is the ending. It brought me both surprise and shock; super cool. Not until the last moment, you can’t understand the meaning of the title. The ending is closely tied to the title like tires of a car. Usually, the English title of a Hong Kong movie is just a decor, but this one is different. Here, “Too” is the key, so smart. Our hero had two choices. First time, it’s a death road and it’s over (?); second time, he really became the boss, but also went lame and got sit in a wheelchair. Controls everything but also lost everything. The ending is so clever, so deep. Too bad I can’t remember some of the details.

Interviewer: What are your favourite Chinese films?

QT: China has a lot of films and filmmakers. Zhang Yimou’s works are very good. I think he is cool – and is always cool…even cooler than I thought. Jiang Wen is China’s best director. His In The Heat of the Sun is really great. It tells an old story that happened in a special period of time, but it shows the general character of young people. Such general character is universal despite races and regions. And, movies from China’s new generation directors are also pretty good. About last weekend, I watched one in particular called One Hundred by Teng Hua-Tao’s. The movie is very entertaining, and pretty good.

Interviewer: Are you going to make dark movies forever?

QT: I don’t think my movies are dark. Really, they are crime movies. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are that type. They’ve got very shocking and terrifying crime scenes. Kill Bill is an action / Kung Fu movie. Later, I will try other film types to widen my road.

Interviewer: What do you think the exact definition of Tarantinoism really is?

QT: (Laugh) I don’t want to answer this question. Let me ask you! What do you think?

Interviewer: Being cool, different, exciting and forward. Can you give us an evaluation on the actors you have worked with? Like Samuel L. Jackson, Uma, and Harvey Keitel.

QT: They are all excellent actors and it’s very comfortable to work with them. That’s why I work with them over and over again. Uma is my leading lady, just like Gong Li to Zhang Yimou or a leading gentleman like Jean-Paul Belmondo to Jean-Luc Godard.

Interviewer: You have played roles in many movies. Like Pulp Fiction, Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn – all got you in it. Which role is closest to yourself?

QT: These roles are quite different from myself. To me, a role is something outside of myself. When playing it, I only think about the role, not me. So I never played any role close to myself. The guy in Pulp Fiction is not me.

Interviewer: If adapting your experience at the video store into the big screen, that would be a very romantic movie.

QT: I don’t want to make a biopic, and I don’t want to play myself. If forcing me to make a movie about those years, I will put the story on a different background and the characters will also be changed. The time spent working at the video store is very memorable. Several buddies who didn’t have much money but were very happily hanging together, just like a family.

Interviewer: You are just like a big kid playing with your favorite toys and always maintaining your passion and curiosity about movies.

QT: I agree with what you said. First of all, I am a movie fan. It’s scary if a filmmaker never has time to watch movies again.

Interviewer: We are also fans of Oliver Stone.

QT: Oh, I see.

Interviewer: Why did you have a disagreement? Because of differences in styles or life experiences?

QT: Style difference is not the key. He not only stole my Natural Born Killers script, but also ruined everything. That is not the original story that I wrote, and the movie was also a f#cking piece of crap. I have never seen Natural Born Killers.

Interviewer: If you were making Natural Born Killers, how are you going to do it?

QT: Definitely will be different, no matter the content or style. That sitcom-style scene, and the couple only killing people. Bulls#!t Also, the Native-American was ridiculous!

Interviewer: Along with the Chinese folk music that goes along with him.

QT: Right, the background music of that scene is Chinese folk music. (Laugh) Nonsense!

Interviewer: In China, people like you are called hooligan literators. Jiang Wen is a typical example. If you were born in China, you would not make Pulp Fiction, because the government didn’t allow it. If so, you might become an angry youth. In China, there are many angry youths who should become China’s Tarantino. Want to say something to them?

QT: Let me think about it – this might be a little bit too absolute. If they think they have no opportunity, they will have no opportunity. You know more than I do. Such discouragement is a mistake in attitude and ideals. The Hollywood is a giant commercial machine. Why does it allow directors like me who don’t have much education to enter? If I always think I got no opportunity, I would not become today’s Tarantino. I have never given up and I never lost my faith. Finally, by accident, I got my opportunity, and could do whatever I want to do. Young people should learn to persuade others, and fight for opportunities. A few years back, the Chinese angry youth sharing the same personality with me might not have any opportunity to make a Chinese Pulp Fiction, but now the policy and the circumstances are good. Soon, they will have their opportunities to test their talent. Soon, maybe now, right now.

Interviewer: One last question – if asking you to make a movie based on the Bible, what would the movie be?

QT: Interesting, interesting. I, uh, of course it won’t be the whole Bible. I will choose a part of it. Maybe, uh, let me think. I will come out with an interesting idea. I will choose the part with the forbidden fruit. Let’s call it Eve and Snake. It’s not a bad thing for Eve and Adam to taste the forbidden fruit. On the contrary, it’s a good thing. The tree filled with forbidden fruits is the tree of knowledge. If they didn’t taste the forbidden fruit, our life today would not be so colourful, so enjoyable. Maybe live like animals, see the rabbits in the yard? Just like them. The tree bore the fruits of freedom and the snake gave the fruit to them. He was a messenger of freedom and Eve was a heroine.

Interviewer: Who would play Eve?

QT: I don’t have an answer yet. Haha. Let Uma try? Haha.

Interviewer: Who would play the snake?

QT: Let me give it a shot? Haha.

August 13, 2002

The crew is not yet in Japan, as they are still in Beijing. They are going to shoot there till September 2. The paper reports that Q.T. and Yuen Woo-Ping have run into argument several times over how to handle the fight scenes. A Chinese person working on the production told the paper that Q.T. was inexperienced in making martial-art movies and had under-estimated the complexity of big fight scenes. Q.T. is doing the fights scenes in his own way – a kind of music video style, i.e. fight moves must follow some sort of music. Q.T. has “slaughtered” many moves designed by Yuen, who thought that many of the moves designed by Q.T. were ridiculous. What have been filmed inside Beijing Film Studios are almost exclusively fight scenes. The aforementioned Chinese insider said that, quite often, actors are hoisted on wires (or wired) to make the same shot over and over again.

Miramax has tight control of any expense outside the budget and has asked Tarantino to delete some scenes several times. The men who played the Crazy 88 gang did not just comprise of stuntmen but Wushu athletes hired from Mainland China. Much of Uma Thurman’s fighting shots are done by two doubles, one male and one female. Uma’s shots are in the minority (although CGI can work wonders once you reach the post-production stage). Although, the doubles have taken a double-day off twice for the last two weeks because Uma needed a break. Everyday, there is an ambulance along with doctors and a massage therapist on standby in case anyone is injured on the set. QT’s take on working with Yuen was: “The Chinese way of doing action is there’s not really a schedule, no shot list. I have certain shots in my mind that I know I want to do but now, me and the master come up with new things as we’re doing it.”

February 10, 2003

Gordon Liu Chia-Hui told a Hong Kong newspaper that he was asked if he would come to the States to shoot some more scenes, bearing in mind that he played two roles in the film – the leader of the Crazy 88, and a very old Kung Fu master named Pai Mei. What makes QT’s request strange is that 700,000 feet of film (7,000 minutes including no-goods, deleted scenes and continuity footage) was already in the canGordon had a contract with a H.K. TV production and hoped nevertheless to be able to persuade the network boss.


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