Comedic Violence

'Kill Bill: Vol. 1' tickles the funny bone as other bones are crushed on screen.

I have to admit I've never been a big Quentin Tarantino fan. Perhaps because Tarantino himself is such an unpleasant character, I found myself shunning his movies. But with Kill Bill, Tarantino has finally transcended his status as every nerd's favorite action film director and become a sort of blood-spattered Fellini, an artist of evisceration who uses the language of film the way Nabokov used the language of language.

OK, maybe it's not that great, but it is a step above, and also beyond, where "beyond" is something like the best Bugs Bunny cartoon ever made. It's violence as comedy; it's the movie that the Three Stooges would have made if Curly had lived to be a million years old. It's also the funniest film featuring decapitation, the rape of the comatose and mothers being slaughtered in front of their children that I've ever seen.

Look, if it's amusing when Bugs gives Yosemite Sam a lit stick of dynamite and kisses him before running off to watch him explode like a badly planned invasion of Iraq, then, hell, properly handled, anything can be funny.

Loosely based on about 400 other movies, Kill Bill is the story of Black Mamba, an assassin whose gang turned on her on her wedding day. With her husband-to-be, family, minister and bridesmaids all slaughtered, she somehow survives, and four years later, she rises from a coma to seek what Republicans lovingly call "homicidal revenge."

That pretty much covers the plot, but if you get lost, Black Mamba carries around a notebook with a "to kill" list, and she scratches the names off as she goes. This greatly simplifies the viewing process.

To make things even easier, every scene and every character is introduced with inter-titles, subtitles, super-titles or just plain, old voiceover. It's as though Tarantino has taken every motif from every other movie and tossed them in a blender. In the hands of the average hack, this would just be annoying, but Tarantino has finally risen to the level of artist, producing meaningless content so that he can show off with his mastery of form.

This is perhaps clearest in the dialogue, which all sounds like it was badly translated from Chinese. There's just something hilarious about seeing a white chick say, "I know you are raw about this. If, in years to come, you still have this feeling, you may seek me out." Everyone in the movie talks like this. You half expect the movement of their lips not to match their words.

Even better than the comic speech are the action sequences. Tarantino has said how much he loves John Woo, which I find a little odd, because even Woo's Hong Kong movies are so boring that they generally put me to sleep faster than a back rub from God. But in Kill Bill, Tarantino takes the Woo conceit of having a 25-minute-long fight scene and actually makes it fun to watch. The scene switches from full color with ridiculous dancing water-style fountains of blood spewing from the detached limbs of masked samurais, to black-and-white stop motion, to a scene shot entirely in silhouette, to a beautiful, slow dance on a snowy field. It's the most creative mass killing since the Florida presidential elections.

The film's color palate looks like it was taken from Phyllis Diller's wardrobe circa 1969. The music is a ridiculous pastiche of sweeping violins and horns, funky guitars, old pop ditties and B-movie chase scene outtakes. Everything references something else, so there's fun for the highbrow Cahier du Cinema reader. And everybody does a lot of bleeding, so there's fun for the average American.

I can imagine a lot of people not liking this movie, but they're not gonna be cinema fans or guys who drive pickup trucks with the words "love wagon" painted on the sides. I'm pretty sure the people who won't like this are the ones who confuse cartoon violence with real violence, and a bunch of people who voted for George Bush because they thought that an ex-cokehead with a truth problem would bring Christ back into the White House.

There are also some people who will be upset by the structure of the film. Kill Bill ends in the middle, after a revelation that pretty much anyone watching the movie figured out within the first four picoseconds. Some people have complained about this. I think it's the best idea in movies ever. Every movie should end in the middle. Think of how much better Star Wars: Episode 2: Attack of the Rumsfields would have been if it had ended in the middle.

I mean, in short, how can you not love a movie that starts with an "old Klingon proverb?" Or a film filled with '70s-style, orange-tinted flashbacks set to electro-wah wah guitar? Or a movie where, every time the lead character's name is mentioned, it's bleeped out? Is that not cool, in the way that the final sequence in Antonioni's Zabriskie Point was cool? I, for my part, believe it is. But then, I believe that there are weapons of mass destruction hidden outside of Tikrit, so what do I know?

Anyway, if you were wondering if now was the time to give up being too hip to watch a Tarantino film, then yes, it's time. Like the California gubernatorial elections, this film is politically incorrect, but it's a brilliant work of art and comedy.