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The Kill Zone

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It wasn’t the Mexican hookers that bothered me. It was the pimp. and even he wouldn’t have been such an issue if he hadn’t recently killed a man.

We’re watching them film Quentin Tarantino’s ”Kill Bill”, but these aren’t actors. This is a real pimp. Who committed a real murder. At least that’s what they tell me. ”He like, knifed a guy,” explains producer Lawrence Bender, gesturing at the man behind the bar, who leers back with a gold-toothed grin. ”You know, it was just a typical bar, whorehouse, fight-over-a-girl kinda thing.”

Right. One of those.

On any other production, you’d dismiss this anecdote as a tall tale. On a Tarantino movie, you just never know. This brand of freakiness is what passes for commonplace on his first film in six years, a revenge thriller starring Uma Thurman as an assassin called ”The Bride.” The production has weathered minor drug use, antiques smuggling, questionable Chinese healing methods, on-the-fly script rewrites, massive budget overruns, unholy amounts of exposed film, and the controversial, borderline-bizarre decision to split ”Kill Bill” into two movies after wrapping.

(”Volume 1” will be released Oct. 10; the second part will hit theaters Feb. 20.) The shoot lasted a staggering 155 days and spanned the globe from Beijing to Tokyo to Los Angeles to where we are on this February morning, the next-to-last week of filming, in a scorpion-infested Mexican brothel. A real scorpion-infested Mexican brothel.

The whorehouse itself is in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a cracked street in a village 35 minutes inland from a small Pacific coast town. It’s an open-air shack with a bar, a clothesline with soiled bras, and a reeking, airless back room with six foul cots lined up against the wall. You could miss the joint easily — it’s marked only by two words scrawled in whitewash on the outside. ”You know what that means?” Tarantino asks. ”It means Pu — y. And Snacks! Pu — y and Snacks! And it’s misspelled!”

He gives a giddy smile and heads off to prepare for today’s scene, which calls for Thurman to come screeching up to the front door in a powder blue convertible, stare down a couple of (real and fake) hookers, and hit up a (fake) pimp for info. The problem is, the elegant, long-limbed actress can’t drive stick. So the car repeatedly stalls, stops short, or drastically overshoots its mark — leaving two Mexican farmers to scramble after the chickens they’ve thrown in front of the car to produce the full poultry-squawking-and-scattering effect.

This happens again and again. Uma stalls. Production stops. Chickens scatter. Finally, on the eighth take, Thurman screeches to a halt and hits her mark.

And a chicken.

Tarantino’s mouth forms a distinct O. Grips snigger. Thurman flees, distraught over her hit-and-run poultricide, and the production breaks for a moment. I look around: Months behind schedule, more than $10 million over budget and knee-deep in whores, chicken blood, and choking dust, it suddenly seems possible that Quentin Tarantino has finally gone gloriously, hilariously, irrevocably insane.