The Killer Bride

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2003

Will all the good little boys and girls raise their hands, please? Thank you. Susie -- by the way, Susie, that was a wonderful decoupage you made illustrating the Ten Commandments -- Susie, why don't you get a piece of cake in the kitchen? And David -- congratulations on making Eagle Scout -- David, you run along with Susie.

Bye, kids.

Ah. Now for the rest of you lizardheads, geeks, mutants; twisted, pimpled dwarves; dead-eyed, beleathered, spiked freaks, boy, have I got a movie for you.

The movie would be "Kill Bill, Vol. 1," and man, is it cool.

If any civilized humans are left in the room, let me point out I didn't say "good," much less "superb" or "great." Let someone else decide that or laugh at the inquiry two decades down the road. For now, "Kill Bill," Quentin Tarantino's first film in six years, is pure evil bliss. It's not pulp fiction; it's pulped fiction, a crazed phantasmagoria of high craft, low taste and middlebrow swordplay. And by middlebrow I refer to the whizz of a multifolded samurai blade as it cleaves the skull and leaves the brow on the floor. That kind of middlebrow.

Uma, meet 150 Japanese guys with swords. Guys, meet Uma. Now, Uma, kill them. Uma, very good. Why, you got all 150 of them!

That's one of the thrills of "Kill Bill," watching the willowy, fetching Uma Thurman turn into a sword-slinging Tilt-a-Whirl that spatters, scythes, slashes, lops and dices everything in its path. I'm surprised they didn't lose a few cameramen on the shoot. The thing is about as refined as watching someone feed hot dogs into a Cuisinart set on 10, except that it's delivered with such high panache and brio, it's mesmerizing.

"Kill Bill" is the story of the bride's revenge, though "story" is not quite the word. It's an ideogram of vengeance, a rebus of revenge. It's not narrative; it's graffiti. The bad guys kill the bride's family. They think they kill the bride. They kill her unborn child. They kill her husband-to-be. All this happens on her wedding day, in the chapel, where she's wearing her bridal gown.

Four years later, she awakens from a coma. First, she must dispatch, in most grisly fashion, a necrophiliac happily engaging her thought-to-be-still form. Having taken care of that little detail (why, the look on the fellow's face is positively amazing!), she escapes from the hospital. Then she tracks down the evildoers and kills them. In fact, the movie runs out of time before she runs out of people to kill, so you will have to wait for what they are calling "Vol. 2," in February, to see her whack the last.

At one point -- the movie is hazy on time, as it flits forward and backward in chronology in accordance with postmodernist mandates on the arbitrariness of narrative -- every major figure was a member of something called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, under the command of one Bill (whose face we never see, though credits reveal him to be David Carradine). Is this outfit public sector or private? Listed on the New York Stock Exchange? Term of enlistment? All of that information is unavailable. What is available is that, for reasons unspecified, it has been determined that Uma must be purged from the outfit -- production notes suggest that her pregnancy prompted her to try to quit, which is frowned upon -- and so the here-comes-the-bullet-into-the-bride's-head atrocity is engineered. Its hideous reality keeps flashing back into her mind as she tracks down former colleagues for her little chats.

And how could there be any further explanation for the carnage onscreen? It would just sound silly. What would possibly be the justification in the real world for an elite assassination team, staffed by gorgeous women, that appears to work solely with samurai swords (though Bill does carry a Colt Peacemaker) and is bound up, somehow, in the rules and rituals of Bushido? Tarantino has stripped the story to its rawest, most functional element: Only motive and opportunity are chronicled, and nothing is related to any kind of wider context. It is pure outlaw art, caring not a whit what anybody thinks of it. And playing by no known rules.

At one point, "Kill Bill" suddenly becomes a cartoon -- literally. When it comes time for the bride to close in on the assassin O-Ren Ishi ("Uma, O-Ren." "O-Ren, Uma"), the film diverts to vivid Japanese animation for a good 20 minutes as O-Ren's bloody history is portrayed. It's not a pretty story, involving her own set of slaughtered parents, her own revenge, her swift ascent through the Tokyo underworld. Ultimately, the animated O-Ren de-morphs into Lucy Liu in time for an epic climactic battle in the snow with Uma.

The collection of fetishes on display is pretty amazing, surely the most intense this side of Krafft-Ebbing's "Psychopathia Sexualis." Tarantino has a major thing for feet, especially Thurman's, which nearly get more screen time than her face does. He loves tart mood changes, as when a child walks in on a knife fight, and the opponents (Thurman and Vivica A. Fox) immediately hide their blades and make nice for the child, like suburban bridge club members. When she goes upstairs, it's back to slash and thrust, building to something I know I've never seen before: the gun in the cereal box (POW! Cap'n Crunch everywhere!)

And let's not mince the truth here: Tarantino is also ghoulishly attracted to the realities of bladed battle, which include limb removal, massive arterial spray, piercings at all unusual angles and, ultimately, lakes of blood. All this stuff is weirdly sexualized; we are in a very different part of the forest. Can you imagine what it would do to Susie and David to see such a spectacle?

So all Susies and all Davids, of whatever age: Do not enter. Do not pass the theater where it's playing. Don't even live in the same county where it's playing.

As for the rest of you fiends, pay no attention to that guy on the aisle, 15 rows up. That's me, and I do not want to be disturbed.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (93 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for extreme gore, including stabbings, beatings, shootings, dismemberments and amputations. Bad language, too.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company