Kill Bill Vol. I
starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu and Vivica Fox
4 1/2 stars

Ah, villiany and vengeance, the eternal unbroken braid. First the villainy: a bunch of assassins blow away Uma Thurman's whole wedding party and leave her for dead. Four years later she wakes up from a coma, and now it's time for the vengeance, served up on sword edge and basted with blood.

That's Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino's 4th film. Like all his movies, it's rich with performances, with intensity, with assured pacing and unconventional structure. Tarantino breaks the rules because he can, because he knows how to scramble his story and not tell us everything and still keep us breathless with anticipation with stuff as simple as groovy music and cool pacing.

And lots and lots of incredible sword-fighting action. Even if this were a movie that didn't have anything else going for it you'd still have to sit back and appreciate the joyous violence of it all, the spraying fountains of blood, the dizzying battle sequences choreographed by Hong Kong master Yuen Woo Ping (Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Iron Monkey). This is sword fighting where the swords are sharp; stuff gets cut off. Think "arterial spray". Think it again and again.

But while Kill Bill is an orgy of violence, it isn't *just* an orgy of violence. No, Tarantino has a lot of stuff he wants to hit us with in this film, lots of images and characters and odd pauses and cool little bits. For a while he'll offer us a deliciously slow shot following an eyepatched Darryl Hannah down a hospital corridor as a jaunty whistling tune carries her forward. Then we'll be treated to an animated sequence that explains Lucy Liu's bloodsoaked childhood reasons for growing up to be an assassin. Or we'll see Uma and Vivica A. Fox battle it out sweaty and mean with knives in Vivica's living room just before her daughter gets home, or we'll watch as Uma goes to kung-fu-film veteran Sonny Chiba to get the sword of vengeance.  We won't necessarily see this stuff in order, and we won't be brought into Uma's life and made all cuddly and comfy with her as a character, but we'll keep watching cuz it's all so awesome.

If there's a defining image to the film, it's the slow, delicious unsheathing of a blade, which we see probably a dozen or more times. And that's what the movie is, the unsheathing of Uma as the Bride, the sword of vengeance. Kill Bill used to be one three-hour movie, but at some point Tarantino decided to split it into two 90-minute films, with the second one coming out February 2004. I don't know what the 3-hour movie would have been like, but Vol I has the perfect kung-fu-theatre feel, ending on a nice episodic cliffhanger. She hasn't killed Bill by the end, but it's pretty clear she's gonna.