"Kill or be killed." It's the dilemma facing The Bride, aka Black Mamba (aka Uma Thurman), in Kill Bill, and you just know which way she'll go. After all, it's a Quentin Tarantino flick. Six years after Jackie Brown, he delivers this savage fairytale guaranteed to blow you away. Accept no substitutes. Combining the balletic choreography of Hong Kong chop-socky with the operatic bombast of a spaghetti western (and throwing in a little Japanese animé), Tarantino elevates the B-movie to A-grade pop art - ripping off other people's films with inimitable style.
He deifies Uma Thurman as a McQueenesque icon of cool. Mesmerising, she sweeps across the Pacific to exterminate "the vermin" who gunned her down on her wedding day. They are The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, headed by Bill - played from the neck down by David Carradine. An ex-DiVA herself, she quit the racket to play happy families, only to wind up with a bullet in her melon.
"TANTRIC ORGY OF VIOLENCE"
But getting to Bill is a bloody business. Mercifully, Tarantino uses every artifice to remind you it's just a movie, folks! These visual twists include a scene of silhouetted swordplay that owes as much to the Hollywood musical as to the art of Bunraku (Japanese puppet theatre). Although he eschews the trademark street jive in favour of portentous samurai speak, the irony is laid on thick. It's plain from the super-kinetic opening sequence, when The Bride drops in on ex-cohort Vernita Green (Vivica A Fox) for a knife fight/coffee morning.
But The Bride's bullseye for Volume 1 is Viper-turned-crimelord O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu). The problem is the character doesn't warrant the importance Tarantino lends her. It's as if Liu's part was amped up in the cutting room to help shape what is essentially an incomplete story.
Volume 1 is merely a build-up, albeit an epic one. It's something like a Tantric orgy of violence that'll leave you panting, but holds back on a satisfying climax. Ultimately it's the episodic structure which allows Tarantino to just about get away with hacking the film in two. It works brilliantly as an anthology of killing, but by the final curtain you're left balanced precariously on a samurai sword's edge in breathless anticipation. And all you can do is kill time...
Kill Bill: Volume 2 opens in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd April 2004.