A delirious homage to Shaw Brothers martial-arts films of the 1970s, director Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1--his first feature since 1997's Jackie Brown--is glorious cinematic pulp. Taking off from a bare-bones revenge plot--a bride (Uma Thurman) who is left for dead on her wedding day wakes up after a four-year coma and vows revenge on the hired assassins who tried to kill her--Tarantino has fashioned a colorful, violent film with several set-pieces that are bound to be talked about for years to come.

Foremost among the latter is a 20-minute marriage of martial-arts mayhem and very black humor staged inside a restaurant, where Our Heroine takes on what looks like the entire samurai sword-wielding yakuza population of Tokyo, as well as a lethal, schoolgirl-uniformed hit girl (Chiaki Kuriyama) whose favorite weapon is a ball and chain. This incredible sequence ends in a dream-like Japanese garden where, in the middle of a light snowfall, Thurman faces off against kimono-wearing adversary O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu).

Although neither as character-driven as Jackie Brown nor as filled with verbal zingers as Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill still bears all the hallmarks of the Tarantino style: extreme bloodletting; a soundtrack that, in this case, borrows heavily from spaghetti western themes, pop tunes and lounge music; the use of washed-up character actors in key roles (Michael Parks, Sonny Chiba and David Carradine), and an immersion in the netherworlds of pop culture that is second to none.

Of course, you're either with Tarantino or you're not. Detractors will deride Kill Bill's mayhem, one-dimensional characterizations and the fact that it takes a while to really get going. There's also little doubt that a picture which literally opens with the Shaw Brothers logo and revels in the esoterica of martial-arts, samurai and spaghetti western extravaganzas will leave a certain amount of viewers open-mouthed in incomprehension.

For those who have been waiting years for Tarantino to get his act together--count this reviewer among them--Kill Bill at times looks like the coolest film ever made, a wet dream for cultists featuring the lanky Thurman in a physical performance that might be one of the most exhausting ever put on celluloid. And let it be said that Miramax's decision to split Kill Bill into two features was a wise one: Three hours of this impeccable mayhem would simply be too fatiguing.

Part Two awaits. And Quentin still rules.

--Lewis Beale