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The Kill Zone

EW GOES ON THE ROAD WITH QUENTIN TARANTINO AND UMA THURMAN IN MEXICO, CHINA, AND L.A. FOR AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE INSPIRATION AND DESPERATION BEHIND KILL BILL, THE MOVIE SO BIG IT BROKE IN HALF!

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.

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