Faster, Pussy Wagon! Kill! Kill!

Back from the dead with the new Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino exposes the dick drive, movie ultraviolence, and his foot fetish

Quentin Tarantino holds the keys to the Pussy Wagon. Of all the reasons why it's good to be the king, surely being able to drive the Pussy Wagon is up there in the top five.

"It brightens up everybody's day," says Tarantino. "When you drive a Pussy Wagon, people see you coming."

He's coming. After six years of self-imposed exile, Tarantino is re-emerging with a movie that's going to sell a mountain of popcorn, one so over-the-top it might bring Bill Bennett out of his self-imposed exile. Tarantino's new Kill Bill, in theaters next Friday, is probably the most violent movie ever made by an American studio [see J. Hoberman's review]. It's definitely the first one to merge the talents of Uma Thurman, David Carradine, and Zamfir the Master of the Pan Flute, precariously balancing them all on a sword's edge.

There it is, parked in front of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, a pimped-out yellow Dodge Ram with the cheesy '70s lettering on the back: PUSSY WAGON. Tarantino tosses the valet his keys to this memorable prop from Kill Bill and heads inside to the press junket. He's looking pretty stoked these days, but his actors are still licking their wounds. Kill Bill pushed its estimable cast to the breaking point, its mix of Japanese sword fighting styles and martial arts acrobatics and months of training turning them into welt farmers. It went way over budget, off schedule, and then Tarantino took a saber and sliced the baby in two parts—Kill Bill Volume One opens October 10, the second half February 20.

His last movie, Jackie Brown, came out in 1997, followed by six fat years of nothing. Tarantino was at the center of American culture in the '90s, but it was starting to seem that his influence might amount to precisely this: two guys in a beer commercial arguing about Ginger versus Mary Ann. The absence was making him look smaller. Tarantino was, take your pick: (a) polishing his World War II epic so long that Kilroy went home and took the war movie fad with him; (b) loading the bong and watching Jim Varney movies at 6 a.m. in his Hollywood Hills house. People wondered if he was ever going to make another movie again—if he'd lost it, even how much he ever had it.

"I didn't really necessarily assume he was stuck," says Thurman. "But you know, creative life and work is kind of mysterious like that. People do get lost. People do lose the fire. People's energy does go elsewhere. But that's just the mystery of being alive."

Jackie Brown was a mature, talky movie, sweet and loopy for all its swagger. But it was hardly an adrenaline shot to the heart, like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction administered, and the reception was downbeat. During this period, Tarantino was everywhere in the culture, and the exposure made him unable to surprise anybody. If you were ever going to be stuck, this was the place. He had his fortune; he could have continued to hibernate for six more years, clocking Terrence Malick time, Axl Rose time. But what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, then forfeit the Pussy Wagon? With Kill Bill, Tarantino wants back in.

When he re-emerged to start filming Kill Bill (in Mexico, China, and Japan), the reports were hardly reassuring: Tarantino packed up Thurman, martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Sonny Chiba, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Carradine, and at least a hundred more to Beijing, where daily he would tear up the script and "improvise" incredibly complicated fight scenes on the spot. The script was 222 pages (twice the norm); cast and crew partied when they'd bagged their first 1,000 reels of film; Harvey Weinstein was headed for another heart attack. That's not even getting into the Ecstasy rave at the Great Wall.

Which is to say, after six years off, Tarantino's thinking huge, looking to open a whole new franchise. "I want to give the fans shit they can't even believe they're seeing

in a Hollywood film," he says. "I'm an arrogant man, and when I throw my hat in the ring, I want to be up there with all the big boys. And I wasn't gonna leave until I was satisfied."

You could fold Kill Bill's plot into a fortune cookie. Left for dead on her wedding day, Thurman's The Bride seeks revenge on the bootylicious DiVAS—Deadly Viper Assassination Squad—who did the deed. The DiVAS fit into a tradition of male-led bands of lethal women, from the Manson family to Charlie's Angels to Fox Force Five. But please, don't invoke Girl Power. True, Thurman fights through hordes of men and women for the ultimate battle, against Lucy Liu's O-Ren Ishii. Both have their dignity, and one of them leaves with it. But Girl Power's been used to sell everything from Lucky magazine to Britney Spears, and maybe it's time we found a new name for the license to kick ass.

Kill Bill is the most film-referential film Tarantino has made yet. It's as if he pulled back from the world after Jackie Brown, curled up with his inner geek, and went a little comatose. Kill Bill references the kung fu movies that flowed from Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio in the '60s and '70s, spaghetti westerns, Japanese anime, and the ultra-bloody films of Japanese master Kinji Fukasaku, who died in January. Daryl Hannah says there's even the influence of Jackass, which Tarantino was watching while choreographing a fight scene with her.

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