It's amazing, in a way, that for a filmmaker so admired, Quentin Tarantino has made only four feature-length films, the pinnacle of which arrived over a decade ago now, and has, in its own way, made a permanent impression upon the direction of film in the intervening years. So great was the influential power of Pulp Fiction that its equally adept though more conventional follow-up, Jackie Brown, was unfairly panned by his style-expectant, film-starved fans, and despite its wonderful craftsmanship, was branded with the label of the quasi sophomore-slump. And now, nearly five years later, Tarantino is once again returning to theatres with a film that is every bit as different from his highly-praised masterpiece as it is from the unfortunate Jackie Brown.

And how will audiences respond this time, one wonders, and to that, the answer is simple: With overwhelming and deafening applause, vibrant enough to shake down the very pillars of heaven.

Kill Bill is a hardcore, energetic bloodbath of a revenge film, filled to the brim with kinetic kung-fu, cartoonish violence, near-oceanic amounts of blood, and a 70's-funk, spaghetti-western soundtrack to bring the down the house as the Bride carries out her deadly mission. And, much like the film itself, that mission, in two distinct words, is almost laughably simple: to Kill Bill.

Uma Thurman's nameless character, The Bride, is a recently ex-member of a ruthless group of assassins, who, upon her exit from the group, take up the orders of their leader, Bill, and slaughter the pregnant Bride on her wedding day. She survives, however, spending four years in a coma, and wakes to discover her child lost and her life stolen. Revenge, of course, is the only logical option, as the Bride begins to off her fellow companions one-by-inevitable-one, leaving Bill as the final coup de gras.

The rest moves at the speed of doubletime fast-forward, taking The Bride from the States and brining her over to Okinawa, and then onward to Japan, where the film's climactic final battle takes place, pitting the Bride against 88 of Japan's finest Yakuza swordfighters, all in defense of their ruthless leader, Oren Ishi (played by Lucy Liu).

This sequence, eloquently titled The House of Blue Leaves, is, quite simply, the most ambitious and effective kung-fu sequence put on film to date - at least as far as American cinema is concerned - and most likely rates within the top-ten world wide. Fans of the Japanese kung-fu genre to which Kill Bill so beautifully pays tribute will be joyously happy with the graceful bloodletting that is about to unfold on screen. Arms fly, heads role, and all in a fluid, wonderfully directed sequence that shows both an appreciation for the "dance of violence" and a careful eye for its smooth, relentless pacing. In this way, Kill Bill marks a huge step forward for Tarantino as a visual director, whose style is slowly becoming that of a muted type of flare - in one sense stylish and in the other sense simple.

And this careful balance between subtle character work, graceful choreography, brutal confrontation and highly-caricatured violence is what makes Kill Bill enjoyable by both hardcore fanatics and passive viewers alike. Radiating that super-cool aura of Tarantino bravado, the film never moves too far from its train-wreck sense of fun. The performances are all decidedly campy, while Thurman does a great job of showing The Bride's anger, passion, sadness, regret, mercy and hesitation all within the context of the character's physicality. The typical QT dialogue is in short supply here, replaced by the exclamatory brevity of statements such as "Now you die!" but with just enough of that sly Tarantino twist to give it the one-up on clich

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is out October 10, 2003.

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