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Interview of the week: Quentin Tarantino

By KAREN BUTLER   |   Oct. 18, 2001 at 2:48 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Writer/director Quentin Tarantino shot to fame in the early 1990s when he wrote terrific, action-packed scripts for Tony Scott's "True Romance" and Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," then went on to make the seminal crime dramas "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction."

The high-school drop-out, who learned his craft by watching movies at the California video store where he worked, followed up those fast-talking, violent portraits of criminals and low-lifes with the George Clooney vampire flick "Dusk 'Til Dawn," one fourth of the poorly received anthology "Four Rooms" and "Jackie Brown," an okay adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch."

Then the Oscar-winning filmmaker once hailed as a "boy wonder" pretty much disappeared for four years.

Now, he's easing his way back into the industry with "Iron Monkey," a kung-fu movie he produced, and "Kill Bill," the first full-length feature film he has written and directed since "Pulp Fiction" in 1994.

Uma Thurman, whose career was launched by "Pulp Fiction," stars as an assassin opposite Warren Beatty and martial arts legend Sonny Chiba in "Kill Bill," which is due out next year.

Speaking with his famous rapid-fire vocal delivery, the 38-year-old auteur told reporters in New York about when he first became interested in martial arts films and how he has incorporated aspects of the genre into many of his own films.

"I'm very fortunate in being part of the childhood generation that was growing up in the 1970s, when the first big Kung Fu explosion happened in America," he said.

"You know, when David Carradine's show 'Kung Fu' and Bruce Lee and 'Five Fingers Of Death,' the whole big explosion that happened in like 1972 and 1973, and then started to taper off in 1975. So, I was alive, I was conscious during all this time. And, then what happened is after that, from 1976 on, the genre really died in mainstream America, but was kept alive by the black community. So then all the films were like opening up in South Central L.A. And the same thing everywhere else, in Detroit and D.C. So they kept 'em alive. I still went and saw them all, I grew up with them. I mean, martial arts films to me are one of the sub-genres of my life. To me, that is like one of the greatest staples in cinema. And for half the planet, it is too. I actually think like one of them," he stated.

Tarantino then railed against movie critics who seemed unable to compare last year's award-winning Kung Fu fantasy "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with anything but the mainstream science fiction flick "The Matrix."

"The most depressed, pissed off or disappointed, whatever you want to say, I ever got of film critics, is when 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' came out," he exclaimed.

"And the only analogies they could make to it was 'The Matrix.' We're talking about one of the most popular genres of cinema as far as the planet Earth is concerned, and (the critics) have so little knowledge of it, that they have to bring up 'The Matrix' as the only example they can come up with.

"I mean, critics are supposed to be film historians. They're supposed to be our film professors for average American Joes out there. So, I think they all accept money under false pretenses when they got paid money for writing those reviews! Because they weren't doing their job, at all. It just shows how ignorant they were. And it's like, I love this genre. I think it's one of those things like horror films or musicals, where it's almost like the damn movie camera was invented to film this!

"When you get the right Kung Fu film, the right Hong Kong-style action movie, it's as if the medium was invented just to do this. It's like what cinema can be, where it really becomes an art form all unto itself. You know, when you see a cool kinetic action sequence in a movie, and when you mix it with Kung Fu. And especially if you start getting a little bit of the knowledge of the mythology behind martial arts cinema, and get a little bit schooled in it," he added.

Although his earlier movies have not featured any Kung Fu or martial arts fighting sequences, his scripts often contain references to the genre, especially in "True Romance," where the main character Clarence (Christian Slater) is obsessed with Kung Fu movies and meets his wife (Patricia Arquette) in a movie theater where three of them are playing.

"You haven't seen Kung Fu in my stuff," Tarantino admitted. "But, again, this genre is more than just fights. So, there's all kinds of staples inside of the genre. And I think growing up watching grindhouse cinema -- blaxploitation movies, spaghetti westerns, Italian crime films, Kung Fu films, what have you, all those genres are very influenced in my movies. I think when you look at my movies, you can tell that this is the real thing. And I think somebody with two glass eyes could see it. You know, that like growing up, my favorite style of movies was either exploitation films, or art house films. Now I saw everything.

"And I'm not a Hollywood snob at all. There's enough good movies coming out of Hollywood every year to justify their existence. But I always liked the movies that went further. Or colored outside of the lines, or whatever you want to say. And that's what exploitation films and art house films did. And I've always tried to marry those two genres together, those two styles of cinema in my films."

So, is that why he decided to help Miramax get the 2000 direct-to-video movie and film festival hit "Iron Monkey" into theaters earlier this month?

"One of the things that is so good about 'Iron Monkey' is that it's so cool to follow up 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.' Because that movie came along, and in a very soft, gentle way, was able to introduce the genre to a whole lot of Americans who were like, 'Ugh, blackbelt theater, get that out of here.' And they could see it in a different way ... They could take it in and they liked the action of it. So, now they've got an appetite for it, now they want to see more. And 'Iron Monkey' fills in. It has its wonderful romantic elements in it, but they're secondary to the fights," he explained.

One of Tarantino's many talents is for picking the perfect song or instrumental to fit a scene, something fans hope his new film "Kill Bill" will also feature. The filmmaker says he has a simple technique for accomplishing this.

"When I'm writing a film, I go into my record collection, and I go through it and start putting on music," he revealed. "And I start trying to find the beat of the movie. The rhythm of the movie has got to work. And when I find it, then I start listening and trying to find the right things for the movie, and just trying to get the personality of it."

He added: "Well, all of a sudden it hit me. That's what I used to do when I was a kid, even before I could direct or anything. I would buy soundtracks of movies that I liked, and play the cuts that I liked, and back before videotapes, that's how you would remember the movie. You'd find the cut from some action scene or whatever from some scene in a movie, and then you'd remember the scene as you're listening to the music ... To me, that's my idea of movie-making, is taking found stuff, and find the right stuff in my head for how it works. I mean, that's part and parcel of what I do, is combining movie images, cinematic images, with music rhythms."

Thurman, who is a good friend of Tarantino's and regards the Oscar-winning screen writer as a "mad genius who is totally unpredictable," said he first wrote his "Kill Bill" script by hand, then typed it with two fingers.

"It's a female revenge movie," was all she would reveal.

Thurman's husband, actor Ethan Hawke said that written on her script is: "Uma Thurman is going to KILL BILL."

"It's funny. You hear (Tarantino) talking: 'I mean, I wanted to come up with a title where, when you go to the movies, what do you want to see? Do you want to see 'Pink Clouds in the Dust' or do you want to see 'Kill Bill'? 'Kill Bill,' man. I know what that movie's about,'" Hawke said, doing his best Quentin Tarantino impression.

"Iron Monkey," which is being described as a Chinese version of Robin Hood, is in theaters now.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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