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Hollywood Meets Beijing in Tarantino Flick
As the warm season comes swiftly to a close, so does more than two months of filming in Beijing for the cast and crew of "Kill Bill," Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's latest brainchild.

According to those involved in the production, from Chinese camera and lighting crews to Miramax Asia representatives and Tarantino himself, the experience struck a chord of success in Hollywood-Chinese co-productions.

The buzz around town now, both in Beijing and half way across the world in Los Angeles, is whether or not bringing a bit of Hollywood magic to the Chinese mainland will be the next phase of US-China collaboration.

"Kill Bill," Tarantino's fourth project after "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Jackie Brown," resembles his earlier works as an exploitation film to end all exploitation films.

The story begins when Uma Thurman, an ex-mafia assassin, gets shot in the head at her wedding. She wakes after five years in a coma and sets off on a revenge-ridden, globe trotting expedition to kill each member of rival groups one by one, leaving Bill until last.

Unlike Tarantino's earlier works, this time around he adds an Asian flavor to the big screen production.

In "Kill Bill," serious kung fu and samurai fighting adds a yang balance to the yin of a classic femme fatale revenge story.

The flurry of fist and foot action not only makes for a great flick, according to Tarantino, but also gives him the opportunity to have a crack at being an action director.

A long-time fan of kung fu films, Tarantino says he reckons action film directors are the only "real" directors.

While putting himself to the test with this ultimate directing challenge, Tarantino has the fortune of working alongside Hong Kong kung fu legends like choreographer Yuen Wu-Ping, perhaps better known as The Master, and Sonny Chiba, in addition to a multi-talented cast of stunt-skilled actors such as David Caradine, Lucy Liu and Michael Madsen.

Tarantino decided to bring "Kill Bill" to the Chinese mainland so the cast and crew could sample an exotic, Far Eastern culture and feed off the excitement of Beijing while filming.

"I wanted to shoot it the Chinese way," Tarantino revealed.

"Here, instead of being overly focused on a schedule, we work the Hong Kong way, we shoot the action till we get it right."

Producer Lawrence Bender says because filming in China is significantly cheaper compared to Hollywood, the reduced cost alone provides enough flexibility to do just that.

Filming the action sequences in China also makes it possible to capture more realistic fighting scenes by using original stunt methods.

Whereas Hollywood can only fabricate high-flying feats and fancy stunt work by using machines and computer simulation, the human hand is used in China to maneuver highly-skilled stunt men through the air with strings.

It allows for more detail in movement and increased authenticity.

But the excitement over the Beijing filming of "Kill Bill" is not just a hyped enthusiasm for a rising East-meets-West pop culture.

The amalgamation of styles paves the way for a new genre of film making and increased collaboration between China and Hollywood on future productions.

Unsurprisingly, the first few steps of Tarantino's foray proved to be the hardest -- the Americans were initially frustrated because they felt the Chinese did not understand them. Likewise, the locals felt frustrated, too, because the visitors seemed to be too demanding.

But in the end, the production turned out to be extremely successful. Both sides discovered that the process of learning to work with each other made the difference.

"After two or three weeks something clicked," Tarantino said. "Things began to fall into place and everyone became excited about the level of success we reached by working together."

Before long, The Master was directing in English and Tarantino was using Chinese.

Several other factors also contributed to the production success of the film.

Lawrence Bender emphasized the level of cooperation the Americans received from local industry representatives, who helped show them the ropes, and the Chinese Government.

"The government has opened up its arms to us by doing everything in its power to make the production run smoothly and to make our filming lives here more comfortable," he said.

Another major force behind the collaboration was Tarantino's personal interest and enthusiasm for China.

"Quentin likes China," acknowledged publicist Jean Marie. With a look of admiration in her eye, Marie described how Tarantino never let the accumulated fatigue from filming 13 hours a day, six days a week, to get the better of him.

"He's living a dream and he loves every minute of it," she says. "He comes to the set with a smile on his face, he eats with the crew and he brings an infectious enthusiasm that crosses cultural boundaries."

For the cast and crew -- some of whom found themselves working in an Asian setting for the first time and others who could not understand even a single word Tarantino was saying -- a smile went a long way.

According to Dede Nickerson, a local film industry savant and China's Miramax representative, timing played another big part in the process.

Ten years ago, the Chinese crew would not have been able to handle a production of this caliber and style.

Working on "Kill Bill" has given the local crew an opportunity to strut their skills in the big time and broaden their experiences by working on a Western production.

Only now, as the recent growth of the local movie industry mirrors China's advancement to a more developed country, did the timing prove right for international opportunities.

"Really, this production is a cultural Petri dish for world globalization," Bender said. "If we can't do it, how is the rest of the world going to be able to?"

Now the filming for "Kill Bill" is in the can, Bender holds high hopes for a broader range of works between Hollywood and China.

The expected success of "Kill Bill" may also produce a heightened curiosity for Chinese movies abroad.

Many filmmakers and audiences feel popular Chinese films shown overseas do not represent the real China.

Even Tarantino said his preconceptions of China, mostly delivered through the media and entertainment industry, have been proven false.

It is hoped that "Kill Bill" will open the door for more Hollywood productions to be filmed in China and bring with it increased investment and support for the local film industry.

"In terms of what lies ahead for the future of China's film industry," says Yang Dong, a local film industry analyst and manager of the Sanshanzhai Art Centre, "The production of 'Kill Bill' got us off to a wonderful start and has set a fantastic example for the road to enhanced exchange."

True to the plot of a Tarantino movie, no one really knows where it will all end up.

But with the potential for profit, the future promises a win-win situation for Hollywood and China's burgeoning film industry.

(China Daily September 23, 2002)

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