Quentin Tarantino had one epic film in mind when he set out to create what would become Death Bill: Vol. 1 and its follow-up.
The main character of the Bride emerged from conversations between Tarantino and star Uma Thurman during their first collaboration in 1993. “I came up with the idea of Kill Bill on the set of Pulp Fiction with Uma,” Tarantino shared The Hollywood Reporter in 2003. “‘Bang Bang’ set to Uma for the opening credits was on my mind (at the time),” the director said of using Cher’s song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” to open the film, though he later chose Nancy Sinatra’s cover.
Death Bill: Vol. 1 is about Thurman’s former assassin who seeks revenge on her former team and their leader, Bill (David Carradine), after they tried to kill her and her unborn child on her wedding day. Tarantino had Warren Beatty in mind for Bill and had pitched it to him before deciding Carradine was a better fit. Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah play the Bride’s former associates in the bloody martial arts film that pays tribute to the grindhouse titles Tarantino loves.
In preparation for this action-packed project, the cast underwent three months of training with fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, whose work includes The Matrix And Crouching tiger, hidden dragon. After a production delay due to Thurman’s pregnancy, they filmed in Beijing, Tokyo, Mexico and LA
“I remember calling Uma and saying, ‘You’re going to have a baby in January, and we’re going to give you two months to recover and come back, and then we’re going to start training for three months,’” says producer Lawrence Bender. THR. “She says, ‘Lawrence, it’s not like baking a loaf of bread. There is no guarantee that my baby will emerge X date.’ And we laughed and I said, ‘Okay, thanks for reminding me.’
Bender recalls warning Tarantino about the long running time during shooting, and that it didn’t fully affect the director until the post-production process.
“In the beginning I said to Quentin, ‘We’re never going to get this done in two and a half hours,’” Bender says. “And he argued with me and said, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We had these arguments, and finally he said to me, “You just have to trust me.” I said, ‘Okay, I trust you.’ And as the filming continued, it became clear towards the end that there was a possibility that this could end up being two films. We didn’t go into it as two films.”
He continues: “Towards the end of the shoot we all had the same idea (to make it two films), and then we just dropped it. We just finished shooting the movie as it was. We haven’t changed anything. And then it was in the editing room that Quentin and the editor, Sally Menke, made the choice to actually do it and see how it worked. He showed it to us and it clearly worked.”
Miramax released Death Bill: Vol. 1 on October 10, 2003, raising $180 million worldwide ($301 million today). THR’The film’s review deemed the film “tremendously watchable” but noted that it felt incomplete without it Full. 2, which hit theaters six months later. (Thurman later revealed that she suffered permanent injuries from a car stunt that went wrong during the filming of Full. 2.)
The cultural impact lives on, as SZA topped the charts this year with her song “Kill Bill,” with a story that mirrors the film’s plot. Bender says, “Every generation seems to discover it and really love it.”
A version of this story appears in the Oct. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.