Lucy Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama, and Julie Dreyfus join the cast of Tarantino's film. (Courtesy photo)
With the arrival of the fourth feature (well, the first half of it, anyway) by the most debated figure in contemporary filmmaking, some introductory notes seem warranted. Inappropriate expectations were a big handicap for Jackie Brown, a wonderful piece of movie-love that was dismissed by a lot of people who wanted something (Pulp Fiction II, essentially) it never intended to be.

Viewers looking for more of the casual, pop-culture informed banter that characterizes Tarantino's work will be disappointed. Instead, they will be greeted by unnaturally formal dialogue colored by the honor-driven world of martial arts cinema. In the story's first chapter, Uma Thurman's speech is littered with stiffness like "it was not my intention" and "for that I am sorry." This is in keeping with a plot in which a man will refuse to kill an enemy who can't fight back, or a cold-blooded assassin will stop mid-fight when her opponent's young daughter enters the room.

Dir. & writ. Quentin Tarantino; feat. Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, David Carradine (R)
The audience should be prepared for some self-conscious weirdness. Like the Pulp Fiction moment in which Thurman draws a rectangle in the air, Kill Bill interrupts naturalistic moments in a couple of jarring ways. When the name of Thurman's character is spoken, for instance, it is masked by a loud beep; she will, for reasons not yet known, be referred to only as The Bride. The title of one of the film's chapters is deliberately strange: Chapter one is called "2" - attentive viewers will note that those on the Bride's list of people to kill are numbered, and person two is the first opponent we meet. The chronology is as shattered as it was in Tarantino's previous films, and for the first time, the director lets the look and feel of the film flow as unpredictably as the timeline. Here's a blaxploitation moment, there's an anime interlude, elsewhere is a samurai Hallmark Moment in which a proud swordmaker, haloed by soft white light, displays his perfect instruments of death.

Part of the point is that Kill Bill is unified not by love for a certain genre - the yakuza film or kung fu epic, say - but by revenge movies in general. Opening with a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (in which Ricardo Montalban makes things personal with Captain Kirk), the movie follows a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad who was left for dead by

Daryl Hannah and Uma Thurman (foreground) in Kill Bill (Courtesy photo)
treacherous colleagues, and makes it her mission to eliminate each of them. It's a movie soaked in blood, picked up and wrung out, then tossed back again into the carnage; and while it is not (as some advance word has indicated) simply one long fight, it will hold little appeal for moviegoers who can't thrill to decapitations and epic duels. The director relishes the beautifully choreographed action and the bits of style - the long, high whine of an unsheathed sword, the geyser of blood produced by a de-limbed torso - that make cinematic violence a sensual feast.

Tarantino has taken a lot of heat for stealing bits and pieces from other films, and for the most part that's a moronic complaint. Dressing Thurman in Bruce Lee's tracksuit or naming his reservoir dogs after criminals in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three isn't the same thing as a musician writing a song around somebody else's melody. Really, this tendency is less a sin than a service to moviegoers who can't enjoy Tarantino's beloved exploitation and genre flicks on their own merits: The director boils them down to their essence, making them more thrilling than most of them ever were in the first place. •


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