Kill Bill's Martial Arts Training Was As Brutal As It Gets

It's no secret that "Kill Bill: Volume 1" set a standard when it comes to American martial arts movies. A stylish revenge thriller packed full of iconic fight scenes, "Kill Bill" was fuelled by Tarantino's unique, non-linear filmmaking style, and it certainly wowed critics and audiences at the time.

The film stars Uma Thurman as The Bride, an unnamed woman who was left for dead at the altar. Now, years later, it's time to track down her aggressors — her former colleagues in a deadly assassination squad — one by one and get the revenge she so eagerly desires. It's a phenomenal film with obvious inspirations in classic martial arts cinema. The Bride's yellow biker suit is clearly based on Bruce Lee's iconic look from "Game of Death," and there's even a cool animated sequence that pays homage to anime classics. But one thing that really stood out was the film's impressive martial arts sequences.

Deadly Viper Assassination Squad member Vivica A. Fox recounted in her autobiography, "Every Day I'm Hustling" (via TIME), that Quentin Tarantino was deadly serious about getting the martial arts right.

"There would be no quick cuts or getting away with special effects to make us look like real warriors," she explained. "I had to commit to six months of training, and all of the actors needed to become experts in martial arts to make his vision real on the screen."

What they embarked upon was one of the most grueling training regimes they had encountered.

"It's mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack."

For "Kill Bill," Tarantino was taking no shortcuts — his stars would have to learn martial arts. For real. If they were going to become the world's very best assassins, he wanted them to know exactly what they were doing, and that meant a rigorous regime of physical and martial arts training.

"The training itself was brutal," wrote Fox. "We'd do fight choreography, knife throwing, samurai lessons and hit the treadmill and weights in between. They liked me because I could do them high kicks from being a cheerleader."

Although Fox had just one fight scene, her training regime was intense. After The Bride regains consciousness following a four-year coma, she decides to track down her fellow assassins to get her revenge. The fight with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) is the first we see on screen. 

To prepare for that brutal showdown, Fox was put through the wringer. She recounted, "For three months, Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, and I spent eight hours a day studying martial arts at a gym they put together in Culver City. It was nine to five, Monday through Friday. If you didn't walk in the door between 8:55 and 8:59, you were in trouble at 9:01. I thought I was in the damn Olympics or something."

Clearly, Tarantino pushed his stars as hard as he could to get the most impressive martial arts performances out of them ... but he may have pushed them a bit too hard.

"That woman deserves her revenge ..."

Martial arts roles require a lot of training to get everything right. You only have to look at Marvel's "Iron Fist" to see what happens when it all goes wrong. But while Fox was determined to bring her A-game, it looks as though Tarantino wasn't initially impressed.

At the end of every week, the famed director would gather around his actors and assess their performances. Apparently, it wasn't always a constructive review. Fox revealed, "The first week Quentin cut into us, telling us we had to work harder. Okay, I can work harder."

But while Fox upped her game, Tarantino seemingly still wasn't impressed. "Second week, we got the same thing after we busted our asses," she said. "He said we weren't giving it our all." 

"Third Friday, I was so proud of all that our team had accomplished," wrote Fox. "I was sitting between cute little Lucy and sweet Uma, and I was ready for a high five for all of us. Instead, Quentin tore into us. Something about us lollygagging in the morning, taking too long to suit up, and gabbing over coffee. He said we should get here at 8:30, a half-hour early, if we wanted to do all that."

Clearly, Tarantino took the process very seriously and demanded a lot from his stars. But the proof, as they say, is in the butt-kicking.

"You and I have unfinished business."

By the time The Bride tracks down Vernita Green, the former assassin is living a normal, suburban life with her young daughter. What unfolds is a vicious knife fight that sees the two former allies go toe-to-toe in brutal, bloody combat throughout Green's average American home.

"It took four days to film our fight scene," Fox remembered. "And on the last day, I took a long bath when it was over. I sat in the tub and counted all the bruises on my arms and legs. I got up to 30. And I did so with gratitude."

The scene itself plays out perfectly. Choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen, who previously worked on "The Matrix" films, put together an impressive knife fight that's underpinned by Green's new role as more of a domestic goddess than a goddess of war. Ultimately, Fox felt that her sacrifices were worth it.

"I was proud of my battle scars," she recounted. "I had done a Tarantino film, and nobody could take that accomplishment from me. Quentin is a fabulous director and I'd love to work with him again. I appreciate those endless hours in the Culver City torture chamber. It was his way of breaking us down to build us back up."

Across the board, "Kill Bill" showcases some truly spectacular martial arts performances — not least of which from its star, Uma Thurman. If the face-off between The Bride and Green wasn't enough, a spectacular fight scene with the Crazy 88 elevates the film to legendary status.

"Let's pretend we're little kids and we're making a Super 8 movie in our backyard, and you don't have all this s**t," Tarantino told his film crew. "How would you achieve this effect? Ingenuity is important here!"

It looks as though Tarantino pushed everyone to think outside the box and deliver their very best, not just his actors. The result is that "Kill Bill" is a modern classic — an American martial arts movie that practically defines the genre.