Kung Fu Caine’s Kill Bill comeback.
Cult actor/icon Carradine’s diary, kept during the making of the Quentin Tarantino magnum opus Kill Bill (split by the studio into two “volumes”), is by turns engrossing, funny and surprisingly moving as it records both the impossibly difficult realities of personal-yet-epic filmmaking and an under-appreciated talent’s return to professional grace. Carradine had languished for years in marginal action pictures until Tarantino’s first choice for the eponymous role in his kung fu/western/exploitation extravaganza dropped out of the project. That actor was Warren Beatty, who suggested Carradine for the part after Tarantino had referred to the ’70s star for the umpteenth time. In an easy, unpretentious prose style that is prone in equal measure to mystical rambling and rueful self-deprecation, Carradine describes arduous martial-arts training sessions (in which he clashed with preeminent fight choreographer Yuen Wu Ping); his admiration for the performances of his co-stars (Uma Thurman and Michael Madsen receive particular praise); the compounded complexities of international moviemaking; and the boundless energy and invention of writer/director Tarantino. The emotional power here emanates from Carradine’s joy in finally being given the opportunity to work at the top of his abilities with quality collaborators in an atmosphere of mutual respect. If Kill Bill did not result in a Travolta-scale career rehabilitation for Carradine, it did give him the role of a lifetime, and the uncertainty he expresses in the diary’s early sections is rendered charmingly poignant by his ultimately brilliant performance. (A quibble: Carradine inexplicably gives far too much space to semi-literate Internet movie maven Harry Knowles’s set reports—Carradine himself seems annoyed by Knowles, so the inclusion of so much of his embarrassing gush is doubly puzzling. Maybe it’s a kung fu thing.)
Absorbing and sweet—inspires a second (or third, or tenth) viewing of Kill Bill.