Tarantino back on form with gory epic

Kill Bill, the latest project by Quentin Tarantino, is so long that it is to be released in two parts ­ to avoid a massacre on the cutting-room floor. But the violence and the gore have not been left behind in the editing suite.

The first part, which has its British premiere at the Empire, Leicester Square, tonight, is every bit as bloody as the early word warned. The 40-year-old's fourth film, and his first since Jackie Brown six years ago, sees severed limbs, decapitations and fountains of blood.

Yet its precocious borrowing of the film genres the director grew up adoring ­ Chinese kung fu, spaghetti western, Japanese samurai and animation ­ is done with such audacity that only the most squeamish should stay away.

It has wit as well as horror and there are scenes of stunning cinematographic beauty. Uma Thurman is reunited with the Pulp Fiction director in a role he devised for her, even delaying filming when she fell pregnant with her second child. She spent months training in martial arts and Japanese conversation (delivered with sub-titles) to emerge fighting-fit for the role of Black Mamba, an assassin gunned down on her wedding day on the orders of her former boss, Bill, because she wanted to quit her life of crime.

Awaking from a coma, she embarks on exacting blood-curdling revenge on Bill (David Carradine) and his Deadly Vipers Assassination Club, which includes the Charlie's Angels star Lucy Liu.

The story is not told in linear form but jumps in time as the plot unfolds. And indeed there are signs that some of the narrative drive was lost as Tarantino struggled to constrain the work within the conventional time-frame expected by the studios ­ even allowing for its release in two instalments.

In early scenes, it is hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion ­ at the sight of women kicking the hell out of each other ­ that this is a movie made by and for a bloke of a certain age keen on cheap thrills. But Kill Bill swiftly moves beyond this to achieve an almost cartoon-style verve as Thurman's bride/assassin conquers impossible odds to wipe out those who crossed her. Homage it may be, but it would be harsh to call it derivative. Kill Bill: Volume 1 will be released nationwide on Friday, 17 October. Volume 2 is due next year.

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