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by Peter T. Chattaway

The Revenger's Tragedy

Vengeance is ours, saith Hollywood.

Vengeance is ours, saith Hollywood. This message came through particularly loud and clear during a single week in April, in which the studios released three films about grim, determined vigilantes who seek brutal revenge against their enemies. While those who take the law into their own hands are usually anything but heroic in real life, the protagonists in Kill Bill, The Punisher, and Man on Fire are all presented in more or less sympathetic terms. All of their violent vendettas are portrayed as at least somewhat justified, and there even seems to be a hint of divine sanction hanging over their efforts. All three of them have lost a child, and sometimes other friends and family too, and all three of them have been shot and left for dead by the villains who deprived them of their loved ones. Thus, when all three of them recuperate and set out on their quests for vengeance, it is as though they have risen from the dead to set wrongs right.

The implicit divine approval is made explicit in Kill Bill, the two-part Quentin Tarantino movie which freely mixes the conventions of Eastern and Western revenge flicks. The story follows a female assassin, known at first only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), who is shot in the head by Bill (David Carradine), her former boss and lover, and then spends the next four years in a coma. In Vol. 1, released last year, she awakes, beats a hospital employee who has been raping her and pimping her body out to other men, then wills her paralyzed legs back to life. As The Bride sets off on a globe-trotting mission to kill the five former colleagues who killed her friends and caused her to lose the baby she was carrying, she marvels that she survived Bill's attack; in a voice-over, she declares: "When fortune smiles on something as violent and ugly as revenge, it seems proof like no other that not only does God exist—you're doing his will."

As always with Tarantino, it is difficult to tell where hip posturing ends and sincerity begins. The one thing ...

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