The title of Quentin Tarantino's new picture, "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," sums up his current filmmaking approach.
On one hand, the title couldn't be more direct, and this is the most straightforward story a Tarantino feature has ever told. Uma Thurman plays a modern samurai-type warrior with a list of people she wants to revenge herself on. The extremely gory film follows her from one bloody confrontation to the next.
On the other hand, there's more to this thriller than meets the eye, and we'll have to wait until Feb. 20 for "Vol. 2" to end the story. Tarantino likes tales of considerable size and scope, and "Kill Bill" grew so long that he had to divide it into a pair of pictures. This explains the open-ended finale of "Vol. 1," much like that of "The Matrix Reloaded," to be concluded in "The Matrix Revolutions" next month.
On the third hand - all movie critics have at least three hands - Tarantino may be following the same recent pattern as Mike Figgis and the Coen brothers, aiming for maximum box-office impact after disappointing returns from a previous project.
Tarantino became a certified enfant terrible with "Reservoir Dogs" and scored a worldwide super-smash hit with "Pulp Fiction," but the subsequent "Jackie Brown" sold far fewer tickets.
As it happens, "Jackie Brown" is Tarantino's most thoughtful and tactful film. By contrast, "Kill Bill" is a smorgasbord of slam-bang mayhem, certain to tantalize young men, and with its ultratough heroine, perhaps young women, too. At least that's how Hollywood thinks. And for all his vaunted independence from the system, Tarantino seems to think that way too.
Though "Kill Bill" is one of the most violent films this year, it's no more so than many of the Asian kung fu flicks it pays homage to. Don't be surprised if it slaughters its action-film competition in this overcrowded movie season.
• Rated R; contains unrelenting violence.