Filming in China

As I passed through the darkened soundstage toward the glow of the campfire, I heard the Chinese crew members whispering what sounded like Beer…Beer. I learned later they were saying, Bill…Bill…That’s Bill! This was the 52nd day of the film called Kill Bill and this was the first they’d seen of Bill. Uma was snuggled into a sleeping bag, looking absolutely beautiful. No one is ready for how lovely she is in this film. Nor are they prepared for her expertise with the sword, or, for that matter, the depth of her acting performance. She has become my favorite actress.

My job today was to tell her, as a kind of bedtime story, the history of Pai Mei’s 5 Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique (another five-page

Tarantino monologue), while providing myself with musical accompaniment on The Silent Flute, a five-foot long bamboo flute which I’d made in 1976 for the movie, released in the USA as Circle of Iron. Qucntin was jumping up and down with glee, as for nine weeks he’d been shooting nothing but action.

This was the first time in the movie he’d heard his words spoken, and Quentin’s movies are all about his words.

I had a few days off to visit The Summer Palace and The Great Wall (had to do that) and then, it was work, work, and work. Starting out with the kung-fu/Samurai fight with Michael Jai White, the dialogue for which we received the morning of the fight was written in Magic Marker on the back of a call sheet. That, I would learn, was Quentin.

We shot that sequence for four days. Exhausting, yes; but nothing but fun. Michael is a prince, besides being a formidable opponent. And, God, can that man eat. Well, his body needs a lot of fuel. His deltoids are the size of my head. Before I got to fight him, I had to take out his four henchmen.

That, with the help of Yuen Wu Ping’s hot choreography, I accomplished in two moves. But, we spent half a day shooting it horn ever)’ possible angle. I received a serious cut on the arm during my battle with Michael. Not his fault, J hastily add. A badge of honor. I thought briefly about rubbing salt in the wound so I could keep the scar as a memento. I went on with the routine, until we had to stop because of the big, spreading stain of red on my off-white tunic. A Band-Aid and a fresh shirt, and we went at it again. You’re gonna love this fight. It’s dazzling, and the end is a big surprise.

Then we moved on to The White Lotus Temple for the sequences with Pai Mei, the evil master. Quentin had decided to forego playing the part, as he was having so much fun directing. Also, he had available Gordon Wu, who had played Pai Mei in several Hong Kong movies. Gordon is cool!

He’s super-dedicated. He takes the role very seriously. He’s a musician: a composer. He comes bopping in, gets into make-up and wardrobe, and then assumes the lotus position and meditates. When he rises, he is Pai Mei.

The temple was a real one, very old, even by Chinese standards, way out in the sticks, and on top of a mountain; reached by a flight of 400 steps. I would have to negotiate 160 of them at a dead run some 30 times this day. Piece of cake, as it turned out. Those three months of sweat had stood me in good stead. Uma would have to do 400 of them, carrying two buckets of water on a stick as many times. It’s not all autographs and sunglasses, you know.

As we were leaving The Temple for the last time, I suddenly realized that I had a chance to cut some bamboo for flutes from an ancient temple in China. I couldn’t pass that up. I vaulted over the wall and started at the roots with my jack-knife, then switched to a shovel and then an ax. The root structure is important. It adds resonance, and makes a good club as well.

Quentin came by and said, Are you allowed to do that? I said, Well, bamboo is a pest. He had a point, though. There were signs all around specifying a huge fine for messing with the old trees. The bamboo could be included.

I hurried. One of the American crewmembers yelled down to me that someone was coming. I feverishly collected the four trees I’d extracted, lopped off the tops and stuck them back in the ground. If the rains came soon, they’d take root. Getting the pieces in the car was tough. And the authorities were getting close. I had visions of a Chinese jail cell. We made it out just in time. I must have been a strange sight, walking through the marble lobby of The St. Regis with a bundle of 12-foot bamboo stalks on my shoulder, trailing temple dirt from the roots.

Fortunately, six-star hotels have tall elevators.

Then it was back home to L.A. For me and most of the company, while Quentin took a small unit to Japan to shoot a motorcycle chase through the streets of Tokyo.

I’d have another month off (if they stayed on schedule) before continuing the saga in Southern California. Had to keep working at the Samurai and kung-fu, though. Much more fun to be had.

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