Kuh-lunk.

Fans of last October's super-stylish and uberviolent "Kill Bill Vol. 1" know what that sound is. It's writer/director Quentin Tarantino, dropping his other shoe.

Devotees of the first installment have been jittering on the edge of their theater seats in anticipation of more quirky storytelling, more revenge and more Uma, as her nameless character continues her quest to finish off her former colleagues, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and their leader (and her former lover), Bill.

Having crossed two Deadly Vipers (Vivica A. Fox and Lucy Liu) off her list in the first movie, Uma Thurman moves on to Michael Madsen, who's living in a dusty trailer somewhere in Texas and subsisting on beer and gin. And in a spectacularly comical sequence, Thurman takes on fellow blonde Viper Darryl Hannah in a catfight that's an eyeful.

Her showdown with Bill, played by David Carradine, is a multifaceted reunion/goodbye/duel to the death that's morbidly fascinating for audiences to watch, as the pair of lethal killers banter good-naturedly about their past while the room palpably fills with tension.

As usual, Tarantino slices his story up into chapters, not always in chronological order. Through these mixed-up vignettes we finally get the whole picture on the massacre at a wedding chapel that opened "Vol. 1." We learn more about Thurman's stint as Bill's protege, and watch her going through hell as a student of a legendary Kung Fu master and punching her way out of a freshly buried coffin.

The setting in "Vol. 2" shifts from Japan to the Southwestern United States and Mexico, but the film doesn't take on the look of a Western the way "Vol. 1" resembled a martial arts movie. In fact, the scenes of Thurman's Kung Fu training in China are choreographed, filmed and edited just like a Bruce Lee classic from the 1970s. (Gordon Liu, who plays the Yoda-like master, was also cast in "Vol. 1" as Johnnny Mo, the general of Lucy Liu's army of bodyguards, and was the fight choreographer for both films.)

Known for his integral use of music to set the mood and the pace for his movies, Tarantino backs off from vintage songs in favor of a more tradional atmospheric soundtrack, with a couple of familiar themes reoccurring in key moments.

Throughout its running time, "Vol. 2" is a much more intimate and dialog-driven film than its predecessor. Tarantino focuses on the characters as they ponder their lives as professional warriors and then fly at each other's throats, which not only makes for some classic fight scenes but gets viewers to invest emotionally in the figures onscreen. Without revealing too much, let's just say that the investment pays off big time.

What makes Tarantino's films so incredibly entertaining is his forte for having "interesting people saying interesting things," as Roger Ebert noted when "Pulp Fiction" came out in 1994. Let's hope his inspiration for writing and directing movies as engrossing as the "Kill Bill" saga never runs dry.

"Kill Bill Vol. 2"

Rated R for violence, language and brief drug use

Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Darryl Hannah, Gordon Liu

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Length: Two hours 14 minutes

Now playing at: Astoria Gateway Cinemas, Cannes Cinema in Seaside and Neptune Twin Theatres in Long Beach, Wash.

Short take: Uma Thurman is back as "The Bride" on her unrelenting mission to kill the gang of assassins who left her for dead four years earlier. Not as bloody or stylized as the first part, "Vol. 2" focuses more on the intriguing characters for a highly engrossing tale.

Rating: Three stars (out of four)

Movie trivia: From what series of movies did Quentin Tarantino borrow the character of Pai Mei?

Answer: The character of Pai Mei appears in several Shaw Bros. Kung Fu films from the 1970s and '80s. "Pai Mei" means "White Eyebrow."

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