Directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, Vivica A Fox, Sonny Chiba and Chiaki Kuriyama.

Tired of the hype already, even though you're chomping at the bit to see it? Had enough of hearing about the yellow jumpsuit, the blood, Tarantino's quote about hitting his head on the ceiling of his own talent and the showdown in The House of Blue Leaves? Well, don't worry: the wait is over and now you'll only have to hang around until February for the ending.

Splitting 'Kill Bill' into two volumes is as cold and calculating as any of the mayhem dished out onscreen here. And unlike 'The Matrix' sequels and 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy, you'll know when you leave the cinema that this should have been a single film. But in a year of very bad movies, this is one half of one half of a very good one.

Left for dead with her unborn child at the altar, The Bride (Thurman) wakes up from a four-year coma screaming revenge. The intended targets are her former partners in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad: O-Ren Ishii (Liu), Vernita Green (Fox), Elle Driver (Hannah) and Budd (a briefly glimpsed MichaelMadsen). And once she wipes them out, she can get to her main quarry, their leader Bill (an only seen from the neck down David Carradine).

Two things about Quentin Tarantino: he knows movies and he makes you want to know more about them too. How many sought out 'City on Fire' and John Woo's masterpieces after watching 'Reservoir Dogs' or delved into the blaxploitation genre after 'Jackie Brown'? With 'Kill Bill' there are tributes galore to martial arts classics, low budget revenge flicks and spaghetti westerns. It's a seemingly endless treat of cult references waiting to be untangled - just make sure you're not sitting beside an anorak who knows them all already.

Visually, this is Tarantino most memorable offering, so audaciously filmed that shots from it deserve to be more than just posters on fans' walls. He and unsung hero cameraman Robert Richardson start in blood-soaked black and white and move on to bright colours, grim graininess, Japanese animé and everything in between, with each chapter of the story having a distinctive look. Some of them you'll have seen before, but rarely with so much panache and that rush of wonder about what Tarantino's going to try next.

But if 'Kill Bill: Vol 1' is the creation of a director with a lot toshow, it's also the work of one with not very much to say. "Revenge is never a straight line," goes the quote at the end of the movie, yet everything you've seen leading up to it is. Sure, the five chapters of the film may be presented out of sequence, but the plot is one sentence: The Bride wants revenge. It's a film waiting to be turned into a comic, with little in the way of characterisation and where the dialogue, which gave the groove to Tarantino's previous offerings, is badly missed.

The gift here is that you don't notice any of these shortcomings for the first 45 minutes. They begin brilliantly with a domestic dust-up involving The Bride and Vernita Green. It's a four-minute fight so charged with old-school savagery that it makes the CGI and stop-start tricks of every other modern action sequence look jaded. The next chapter, The Bride's awakening from her coma, is deeply disturbing but keeps the momentum going. And then comes the story of O-Ren Ishii. Told entirely in animé with a Bride voiceover, it's the type of about turn that convinces film school students they should burn the books and just buy the DVD.

After this, however, 'Kill Bill' gets stuck, more noticeably than badly. The Bride's travels to Japan to buy her weapon of death from a samurai swordmaker (Chiba) feels like one scene stretched to breaking point. The dialogue goes into subtitles, the humour doesn't work and the pace lags. As part of a bigger film maybe the chapter has more resonance, here it feels like Tarantino getting carried away with himself and highlighting exactly what fast forward buttons are made for.

Then comes The Bride's battle with O-Ren Ishii in The House of Blue Leaves. The fact that it took eight weeks to shoot - just two less than the whole of 'Pulp Fiction' - gives it a seal of approval that may or may not last once the hubris has died down. Yes, the choreography is genius and shows that Thurman can hold her own with any of the beat-'em-up legends of old. But as a body count of 80 plus suggests, this is overkill. If you find yourself muttering, 'why doesn't somebody just shoot her?', then something is amiss. The fact that the out of sequence chapters means you know how it will finish doesn't help, either.

Even with those letdowns, it's going to be very lonely for people who don't adore 'Kill Bill: Vol 1'. There are big questions over some of the violence, though no-one's going to say thanks for bringing them up. For style alone, it deserves a standing ovation; in terms of substance, everyone should stay in their seats. Finding fault here does not make people spoilsports, nor does championing everything mean a far friendlier audience when the next 'Pearl Harbour' lumbers onto screens.

And either way, with a closing twist this good, you'll be first in the queue next February.

Harry Guerin