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Kill Bill: Volume 1

Resounding proof that aesthetic decisions should never be left to the marketing department, Quentin Tarantino's genre-jumping opus Kill Bill has been cut into two bite-size chunks, presumably to maximize admissions over a six-month haul. Since the film unfolds in non-sequential "chapters" like Pulp Fiction, perhaps Miramax and Tarantino felt that it could take the form of a trashy serial novel, with one installment teasing audiences just enough to get them salivating over the next. But unlike the recent Lord Of The Rings adaptations, Kill Bill wasn't planned as a multi-part project, which explains why it ends on such a distinctly unsatisfying note, in spite of the magnificent spectacle that has already unspooled. A bloody revenge epic severed at the torso, Kill Bill: Volume 1 opens with a "Feature Presentation" logo from the '70s, the first sign that Tarantino is returning to his past as a budding cineaste, paying grand homage to the sensationalist genre pictures that continue to inform his work. In that sense, he's created the infectious, movie-movie fantasy world that he might have dreamt of as a viewer: a Frankenstein monster composed of Shaw Brothers martial-arts films, Japanese yakuza and samurai movies (new- and old-school), Italian spaghetti Westerns, and even a playful experiment in anime. It remains to be seen whether Kill Bill is merely a skilled slice of juvenilia or a pastiche with real emotional and thematic underpinnings, but based on Tarantino's storytelling command in the first half, it's worth giving him the benefit of the doubt. A lithe, imposing Uma Thurman plays "The Bride," a.k.a. Black Mamba, a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who was left for dead when the other members turned on her and slaughtered her entire wedding party. Four years later, Thurman awakes from a coma with a powerful thirst for revenge on her cohorts, including Vivica A. Fox ("Copperhead"), Lucy Liu ("Cottonmouth"), Daryl Hannah ("California Mountain Snake"), Michael Madsen ("Sidewinder"), and the sinister ringleader, a thus-far-unseen David Carradine. As usual, Tarantino scrambles the chronology to great effect, patiently doling out pieces of backstory while leaving other major revelations for the back half. Jet-setting from Pasadena to Okinawa to Tokyo, Volume 1 mirrors Thurman's single-minded focus on confrontation, moving purposefully through grisly, multi-textured showdowns with two assassins, broken up by a welcome pit stop with Street Fighter legend Sonny Chiba. Though each setpiece has been meticulously orchestrated–with balletic Yuen Wo-Ping wire-fu choreography, deliciously eclectic music selection, and references by the barrelful–the cumulative effect is strangely wearying, perhaps because the carnage has yet to be relieved by other material. Based on Tarantino's other work, Kill Bill: Volume 2 will likely balance out his masterful grindhouse theatrics with a redemptive bit of heart. But for now, that's only speculation. To be continued...

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