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More heart than blood

Assassins aside, 'Kill Bill's' second act is a love story, its creator insists. And in Quentin Tarantino's world, love is a beating thing.

April 11, 2004|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

"Killing can work as a metaphor for human relationships, if that makes any sense."

-- Quentin Tarantino

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, the 41-year old maestro of "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction" and the coming "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," is perched in the family room of his Mulholland mansion, popping strange Japanese cheese munchies in 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 thinks that this is part of the film -- as opposed to the fleets of ninja killers, the teenage girl psychopath and redneck assassins -- that the audience will actually identify with. He himself got choked up while shooting the last gasping moments of the finale -- paradoxically, for a self-conscious action film, a 40-minute talk scene -- where Bill, as the title demands, gets his just desserts. "I think it's sad because these two kinda belong together. And because of this and that and the other, they're not. It's not too different from 'Othello,' if you think of it that way." Many people might miss this allusion, but they're not Tarantino.

Being with Tarantino is like entering a one-man hothouse of movies and memories of movies, of imaginary characters who are more real and vivid than living ones. It's twilight in his castle-like dwelling, with its cavernous ceilings and brightly colored Italian and French movie posters plastered to the walls. The director appears to be wearing a "Simpsons" T-shirt bearing his own likeness spouting off about violence. His jeans are falling off his bear-sized figure, and over the whole ensemble is a striped button-down shirt. He has one of the most memorable mugs in all of director-dom; it's an amalgam of anima and animus, with a wide forehead, almond-shaped eyes, hair that seems to perpetually want to grow into a monk's bowl, a ruddy complexion that makes him look 10 years younger, an aquiline nose and curiously feminine lips.

His 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 debuts Friday.

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

For a man perpetually dubbed as ironic, Tarantino loves his characters with unreserved passion. Not only has he dreamed up elaborate personal histories and the complete etiology and warrior code of the "Kill Bill" universe, but they inhabit the house he lives in, from the full-size replica of Gogo -- the teenage girl killer from "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," who greets visitors in the foyer, to the skads of action figures, in boxes and out, from "Reservoir Dogs" and other Tarantino films. One gigantic floor-to-ceiling bookshelf dominates his living room, and it's crammed with movie artifacts -- DVDs of his films, copies of his scripts for "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown" in different languages. For his recent birthday, friends even installed the pink-and-white chrome bar from "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" in his basement, complete with operating photo booth and giant bowls of Bazooka bubble gum. The Bride's banana yellow pickup truck sits in the driveway.

Despite the overflow of Quentin-abilia, it comes off as less of a shrine and more the abundance of a mad collector, who happens to specialize in artifacts from his own life. Nothing seems precious; everything seems accessible, including an original script, sprawled in piles across the living room -- all written in his distinctive blocky handwriting (a la fourth grade) across lined paper in different-colored ink.

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 at the box office.

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