Fans of Quentin Tarantino - and the many international distributors who pre-bought the rights to his long-awaited fourth film, Kill Bill - are about to get rather more than they originally bargained for. But all will have dig into their pockets twice for the unexpected treat.
Instead of the three-hour kung fu bloodbath that was once promised them, they will now get two ninety-minute films that will be released theatrically within a couple of months of one another, around the world, starting this October 10th. The back-to-back Kill Bills will be subtitled Volume1 and Volume 2.
But not content with orchestrating just this quick-fire double-bill, Tarantino and his financing studio Miramax Films are also currently working on special Asian versions of both films. These localised editions will be a little longer and more graphic in their sword-wielding, streetfighting carnage, in keeping with the Hong Kong and Japanese action genre traditions that inspired Tarantino to write and direct Kill Bill as a samurai revenge vehicle for Uma Thurman.
In effect, four different films are now being prepared for release built from the same thousand rolls of footage that Tarantino shot for around $55m on prolonged location in China, Japan Mexico and California from his 212-page screenplay. The rapidity with which these finished films will now be rolled out across the globe - partly to ensure that pirate copies don't beat them to the punch - is unprecedented, outpacing even this year's two Matrix sequels.
"We are blazing a new trail here" affirmed Miramax Films chief operating officer Rick Sands, who says the final decision to split the story at its natural break-point halfway through was made by Tarantino and Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein after a Los Angeles screening of the footage assembly three weeks ago.
While Sands says that the initial October 10th date has been locked in, together with an international schedule that should see the film released in 85%-90% of the world's markets within three to four weeks, although the domestic opening date for Volume 2 has not been finalised. "They will be fairly close together. Not five or six months apart but sooner than that. Maybe as soon as eight weeks depending on what else is being released."
In territories where Miramax will not be releasing the films themselves, distributors such as Japan's Gaga, The Netherlands RCV, Hong Kong's Golden Harvest, Spain's Lauren, Scandinavia's Nordisk and Canada's Alliance Atlantis have been suddenly faced with stumping up for two Tarantino films, and finding room in their release schedules to accommodate a second, substantial local marketing campaign.
Not that any were heard grumbling about the additional commitment or the essentially all-or-nothing proposition. Chung Tae Won, president of Korean distributor Taewon said he was more than happy to double up: having two Tarantino films at reasonable lengths is better than one at three hours.
Moreover, as Sands himself puts it, distributors, like Miramax, will all being enjoying "several more bites of the apple" when it comes to ancillary markets. Both volumes of Kill Bill will warrant their own DVD release, to be followed up by a special double-pack sometime thereafter. And the number of opportunities to make a bigger killing in both free and pay-television has increased exponentially.
Miramax's decision earlier this year to sign a long-term deal with Hong Kong-based content provider Celestial Pictures, giving it a swathe of video and video-on-demand rights to numerous titles within the renowned Shaw Brothers library, also makes extra sense now.
Included within that 760-title catalogue, the legacy of Hong Kong's famed filmmaking impresario, is the largest collection of Chinese films in the world including seminal works like The One-Armed Swordsman, Come Drink With Me and The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin. These, along with the films of Bruce Lee, Godzilla and Japanese anime, were the cinematic touchstones that spurred Tarantino while making his homage. With two Kills Bills in the offing, one can just imagine the packaging possibilities to come.
As a corollary to these boosted revenue opportunities, Miramax is now renegotiating its cast contracts for actors who thought they had signed on for just one film. It has been speculated that the two main actresses in the film, Thurman and Lucy Liu, would have already been promised a percentage of the box office revenues, an agreement that would now be adjusted to encompass the two-part release.
Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein told The New York Times this week that such re-negotiations would not present an enormous obstacle since the actors will not be asked to shoot any additional scenes.