Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Dragonlady? Maybe. Butt kicker? Definitely

Lucy Liu isn't about to be typecast,but she was also not going to turn downQuentin Tarantino for a role as an assassinin his new movie `Kill Bill'

By Lola Ogunnaike  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Lucy Liu never aspired to be an actress, but with a lead role in Quentin Tarantino's new movie she has become one of Hollywood's hottest stars.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

If all the roles for women in Hollywood were housed in one giant file cabinet, among the folders marked bookish schoolgirl, wide-eyed ingenue and wanton temptress, hardened district attorney, lonely soccer mom and rocking-chair-bound granny, there would be one labeled She Kicks Butt. Lucy Liu (劉玉玲) imagines that this is where you would find her picture.

"I bet you my head shot is right there," she said with a self-deprecating chuckle. "Right up front."

In the decade or so she has been in the business, Liu has fashioned a lucrative career out of playing the icy vixen -- first as the emotionally barren Ling Woo on Fox's popular legal series, Ally McBeal, then as a coldblooded dominatrix in Payback, a frosty princess in Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon, a federal agent in the box-office bust Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and as Alex Munday, the bikini-waxer by day, private investigator by night in the Charlie's Angels franchise.

But it is her role as O-Ren Ishii, a kimono-clad femme fatale in Quentin Tarantino's blood-drenched, slice-'em-up Kill Bill: Vol. I, which opens in Taiwan on Oct. 24, that has elevated Liu, 34, to an entirely new level of ruthlessness and secured the actress' position as one of America's leading action heroines, at the risk of being typecast as a dragon lady.

In this estrogen-fueled homage to spaghetti westerns and kung fu flicks, Liu plays the archenemy of a character called the Bride (Uma Thurman), a retired hit woman who is brutally attacked on her wedding day and left for dead by a gang of assassins called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS). Four years after surviving a bullet in the head, the Bride awakes from a coma and sets out on a revenge mission.

Her first target, Liu's O-Ren Ishii, aka Cottonmouth, is also beset with a stack of issues. At age 7 she witnesses the gruesome murder of her parents. Four years later she avenges their deaths. By 20, she is one of the world's top women in the assassination profession. Five years later, at a ceremony honoring her rise to the head of the Japanese yakuza underworld, she swiftly decapitates a male capo for denouncing her Japanese/Chinese-American background. With the head of the nemesis in hand, O-Ren plunges into a speech about open communication that sounds straight out of a human resources manual.

"I'm going to speak in English," she calmly states, "just so you know how serious I am."

It is both a comical and a painfully disturbing scene in a film filled with them. Of her diabolical character, Liu said: "I felt like I really understood her emotionally. In my mind she was a survivor, and it was either kill or be killed."

Much has been made about the copious violence in Kill Bill. Limbs are amputated. Heads are scalped. Blood flows like champagne at a Miramax post-Oscar bash. Liu acknowledged that Tarantino's latest effort -- the fourth film he has directed, and the first since Jackie Brown in 1997 -- wasn't for everyone, but added that those going to a film by the director should know not to expect light, G-rated fare.

"To say that the movie is violent is not taking into consideration what movie you're seeing," said Liu. "It's like watching a horror movie and saying the movie's gory. Of course that's the case. It's a horror movie."

To prepare for her role as a Samurai sword fighter, Liu said she spent three months in training and learned some Japanese. Neither was easy.

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