I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino's new over-the-top chick-ninja bloodfest Kill Bill, Vol. 1 but was puzzled by what he thought he was getting out of making all the major characters chicks.
Overall it's a better piece of moviemaking than anything he's done so far. Until the climactic sequence in a Tokyo tea garden, called the House of Blue Leaves, Tarantino had never dazzled us principally with his technical mastery of the medium. He wasn't, and even now is not, in the league of Kurosawa or Spielberg or DePalma as a craftsman of action. He is, rather, an original funnyman; his freaky-tweaked action highpoints are part of a highly-developed and multifaceted comic style.
What people probably remember most about his editing is the clever back-and-forth sequencing, which is as much a screenwriter's technique as a director's, and which generates greater interest in his stories than they would on their own if told in sequence. The style he's known for doesn't reside in the moviemaking itself so much as in the self-conscious attitude of a moviemaker who has absorbed a vast amount of both art films and fast, cheap entertainment, invented a shiny lightweight alloy of the two, and is absolutely unabashed in creating a popular market for it.
Tarantino gets his effects by affronting expectations in a way that is both beefy and frothy, landmining the comedy with shocking violence at the same time that he undermines the pulp action with elliptical, so-inane-it's-funny chatter. People talked about the weird vibe of the scene in which Michael Madsen mutilates the cop while dancing to "Stuck in the Middle with You" in Reservoir Dogs (1992), his first feature. (Tarantino's is an adolescent form of machismo, showing off by seeing how much we can take.) But the signature moments are the early discussion of Madonna at the diner and Steve Buscemi's complaining about being called Mr. Pink. The mutilation and the dialogue scenes are both distinctive, but it's the dialogue that draws on the performers' most imaginative comic resources, and Tarantino's actor-worshipping direction that really enshrines them. (When I think of Pulp Fiction (1994) I always think of the exchanges between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson first.)
Tarantino works through his actors, but he wants a healthy share of our attention for himself. He's as much a name director as he is a comedy writer, or a tough guy, and so he write scripts in which the unreality is visible right under the surface, which keeps the audience from losing themselves in the narrative. He even uses the actors to put his stamp on the work. (He trumps the marquee value of his stars but gives them such memorable material they have reason to thank him for it.) You can't take the stories seriously because you're always aware of Tarantino selecting and combining the incongruous materials, and of the actors holding the incongruities together. As an ironist he comes across as a dandy--a cocky purveyor of style. He's a dandy without effeminacy, buzzing on testosterone and adrenaline, and we get off on the second-hand fumes.