'Kill Bill': Tarantino wants to blow your mind

The subject at hand is "Kill Bill Vol. 1," which opens today, but there's been a detour to Filipino exploitation flicks.

If Quentin Tarantino seems to exist in a perpetual state of cinephile hyperactivity, he really really gets keyed up talking about his obscure discoveries during a Seattle pilgrimage to Scarecrow Video. The former video-store clerk, now 40, reenacts: "Oh My God, this is Cirio H. Santiago's 'Savage!' Yayyyy!"

On a giallo — a bloody Italian horror movie — called "The Body," which is not "The Sweet Body of Deborah": "I mean it's really really good! It's barely a thriller. It is sort of. But it's a really steamy, sexy movie."

On the Bond knockoff "The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World": "Oh I LOVE that movie! With Tom Adams! Not only that, I gotta tell you something — you're going to like this: I have a 16mm print of the sequel to it!: 'Where The Bullets Fly'... "

In a way, we're still on the subject at hand, because it's Tarantino's encyclopedic hyper-enthusiasm for cult cinema that informs "Kill Bill." The action opus is his homage to the "grindhouse" — or exploitation movies — of the '70s, and especially the kung fu ones. The blood is measured in gallons — dozens of gallons — when "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) goes on a revenge spree for the ex-colleagues who massacred her wedding and left her in a coma. Before the film's opening, the big question mark is how civilians who haven't been nourished on the same cult diet will respond to "Kill Bill's" extremes. A few reportedly walked out of a Seattle screening.

Tarantino says, "If the movie only works for me or us — people who grew up on this stuff — then you know, you have to question, how much does it work? And I'm not even saying the answer to that question would be it doesn't. But you'd have to question it. Look, can I show these grindhouse movies and stuff to just any random person off the street and expect them to take it in? The answer would probably be no. But I can be that link between them. Because I'm taking the stuff that I like and giving it back, and hopefully I'm doing my own thing with it, and I'm leaving all the stuff that I don't have to apologize for, just taking the best stuff.

"But the other thing is, if you grew up watching this stuff and you love this stuff, then you're waiting for it. Your feet are firmly planted on the ground. And you're saying Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me. And I'm giving it to you! But if you don't know from whence it came, and you're watching it, it's aaallll new to you, all right? So conceivably, if you haven't grown up with all this stuff, I can really knock your head off. I can blow you off your feet, or at least rock you back on your heels."

Head-spinning riffs

The people not yet saying "Give it to me" may not get the myriad references in a film that deserves to be annotated. Just a few of them:

• Kung Fu legend Sonny Chiba (of the brutal "Streetfighter" series) plays swordsmith Hattori Hanzo (the name of Chiba's character from "Shadow Warriors"). The characters from Tarantino's first screenplay, 1993's "True Romance," go to a Chiba triple-bill at a theater.

• "The Bride" wears a yellow-and-black track suit like Bruce Lee's from "Game of Death" (1978).

• Bad guys wear masks like Lee's Kato character from "The Green Hornet" show in the '60s, and the show's theme blares majestically during a scene when an airplane comes in for a landing.

• Just as Tarantino revived the careers of John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction" and blaxploitation queen Pam Grier in "Jackie Brown," he casts "Kung Fu" TV star David Carradine as Bill.

• One chapter of "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is titled "The Blood-Splattered Bride," a reference to the 1972 giallo, "The Blood Spattered Bride" (no "L").

• Music from spaghetti Westerns can be heard on the soundtrack, and Tarantino acknowledges the late "Once Upon a Time in the West" star Charles Bronson in the end credits.

• The "ShawScope" logo is an homage to the Shaw Brothers, revered Hong Kong producers of sword and kung-fu cinema.

• Shaw vet Gordon Liu Chia-hui plays the leader of the "Crazy 88" squad and in Vol. 2, due in February, plays white-browed monk Pei Mei, a recurring Shaw character.

• The sirenlike music cue from TV's "Ironside" provides hilarious punctuation to a couple of face-offs before brawls.

• School-girl-dressed killer Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama from the cult hit "Battle Royale") wields a weapon on a chain reminiscent of the one in 1975's "Master of the Flying Guillotine."

From whence come all these resurrections?

"Grindhouses," Tarantino explains: "They were the hard-top versions of the drive-ins. That's where the exploitation movies played. Because remember, exploitation movies came into town for one week and then they were gone. And the grindhouses were the theaters that were in the more urban areas of town, the seedy areas, the flea pits.

" 'Dr. Butcher, M.D.,' the Italian gore films, all the way back to the spaghetti Westerns, all those spy films that came out of Italy, and Swedish softcore sex over here, German softcore sex comedies, Spanish horror films, all that stuff. They played all the exploitation movies. And they played all the Hollywood movies on their way out of town. In the '70s, on their way to 8mm, they stopped off at the grindhouse."

The Seattle mother lode

Seattle happens to be the hub of another keeper of the grindhouse flame, Something Weird Video, where owner Mike Vraney says he's bid against Tarantino for some of those 35mm prints. He points out one thing that set apart the grindhouse era: "Our country's so conservative now. All those taboo subject matters — and the '70s took everything right to the edge."

But the 2,000 or so exploitation titles have become steady sellers as they hit DVD, and Vraney is tickled that, say, 1972's "Please Don't Eat My Mother" could be found on a store shelf next to "Lawrence of Arabia."

"I've crossed over!" he says.

Tarantino movie recommendations have adorned the shelves of the Rain City Video in Fremont since about the time of the video release of his 1996 "Jackie Brown."

Manager Kevin Kogin says, "It seems like the popularity of grindhouse and fringe cinema, 'Psychotronic' movies, is on the upswing in the last 10 years. I think there's been more books written on the subject. There's more fanzines that have become more widely distributed. And people like Quentin Tarantino have been vocal about their influences. So people digging a little bit to find more about Tarantino will find out more about Mario Bava or Larry Cohen and seek out those films."

The more the messier

Meanwhile, theatrical audiences will have to wait until February to dig into the second half of "Kill Bill" — an unusual split that made news when distributor Miramax announced it.

"Oh, well, I'm all down with it. I couldn't be happier with it. If I thought I could have proposed that to Harvey (Weinstein, Miramax head), and he would have said yes, I would have done it way back when. But I just never thought that could ever happen.

"I wrote a 222-page script. Now I wrote it in a very novelistic form, so I always hoped that if you were to boil it all down to a more normal script, that I could maybe fit it into 2½ hours, thinking that maybe 'The House of Blue Leaves' (segment) could be 90 minutes, and that gives me an hour to wrap it up. Now I knew I shot more than that, and I knew it would be longer than that, but maybe I could finesse it to make it be OK. But then the truth of the matter is, we started realizing that we had made two movies when the crew started pointing out, Ah, we've made two movies. We were in Beijing, and we made a movie there. Now we're making another one! We've MADE movies. We KNOW when we've made one or two or not."

Here's his glimpse of the second half:

"Volume 2 is different from Volume 1. Volume 1 is like the kind of burst of adrenaline. It's the one-against-100 big fight, and it's all about the fun and the viscera and getting your heart pumping. And it's fairly straightforward, you know. This person on the list, next person on the list. Volume 2 becomes a lot harder for her (The Bride). You get to meet the characters more. The movie slows down a little bit — not slowed down as far as pace is concerned, but it's just not all these fast-forward jumps the way Volume 1 is.

"And just like Sonny Chiba says at the end of the movie, when he says" — Tarantino's voice goes guttural — " 'Revenge is never a straight line in the forest. Like the forest, it's easy to lose your way, get lost, forget where you came in.' Volume 2 is the forest. She's not able to just go 3, 4, 5, all right? Things get messy for her."

To steal a tagline from another exploitation flick: Just keep repeating to yourself after the first splatter-fest: They get messy.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

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In his wildly bloody 'Kill Bill,' the junkie royale of cult cinema from every corner of the earth pays tribute to the exploitation films he grew up with. And he wants to turn everyone on.