I thought I’d posted this, but anyway:

Kick Ass is a wonderful, wonderful superhero film. If you’re in Korea, see it while you can… it’s not some huge crappy film, so it won’t play for long! (I find films succeed more when they are mediocre, and less when they are wonderful, here: the same goes, very generally, for Korean films, unfortunately.)

And yes, it does have the most violent little girl you’ve ever in your life seen. This is one of the film’s charms, and anyone who’s horrified by it needs to go kiss Frank D’Amico’s crooked, murderous ass.

Hit-Girl so rocks.
Hit-Girl so rocks.

But what makes the film kick ass isn’t the over-the-top violence, or the fact much of it is carried out by a little girl. The film kicks ass because it touches on the fundamentals:

  • We live in an organized society, in which injustice corruption and crime are inevitable.
  • We like to think we are moral people, but do nothing about this crime and corruption. We are, in essence, a large group of hypocrites — especially seen from an idealistic point of view. (One often ascribed to teenagers, but in fact more widespread in our fondest wishes.)
  • We have an urge — an instinctive urge, it seems, shared with some of our primate cousins — to preserve or enact justice, but don’t believe we can do so in our own public personae.
  • Sometimes, violence seems to be the only way that injustices or their recurrence or perpetuation can be prevented. And some people are so toxic to justice that their removal from society seems like the only reasonable solution to the problems they cause.

Someone somewhere commented of my own writing that I am very interested in something like “positive terrorism,” but I think that’s off the mark. Rather, I’m interested in the fact that governments, since some point in the middle ages (for the western world) have claimed for themselves a monopoly on violence.

Well, while I don’t think violence should ever be a first resort, I wonder to what degree it should be available to humans faced with certain kinds of injustices: a intractably racist and change-resistant society that also happens to be highly centralized, a society in which women are mechanized and dehumanized, a world where the tech used to combat global warming disrupts life in the Southern Hemisphere and kills millions?

And beyond my wondering, it seems like an inevitable element of human fantasy in response to injustices. Violence, and the power inherent in it, is something probably everyone has fantasized about using — especially the geeks of the world: in high school, there definitely were people whose teeth I dreamed of kicking in, people whom longed to seal into a burlap bag to be tossed into the river.

I never did those things, of course. But it was a natural fantasy, finding myself confronted with assholes whose behavior seemed to be hemmed in by absolutely nobody. (Teachers were always absent those altercations, and other students mostly stood around watching, too scared to join in and whup the ass of the school bully, though they could have done so easily if they’d joined together.)

The superhero is born of this realization: the majority of the school wants the school bully shamed into docile obscurity. But they will not come together and beat him up once, gloriously, spectacularly, and so they instead find they must endure his tyranny. The superhero narrative takes for granted that most people who could do something won’t. The standard superhero narrative presumes special powers are necessary, and this is why most people don’t act. The most interesting superhero narratives, though, presume that powers aren’t necessary, and people don’t act because they are selfish, terrified sheep. They suggest that if you want to get something done, you need to step up like an adult and do it yourself… even if you’re twelve or thirteen years old.

I like this message. I like imagining a group of high school nerds turning up after thre 3:30pm bell, in costume, to pound the living shit out of some school bully — who forever after leaves them alone. Of course, that’s safe. What about the unarguably racist soccer coach? The teacher with a penchant for throwing things at students?

This is why the kids would be tracked down and punished even for just beating some sense into a bully: the idea that individuals can so something about their circumstances is exactly the opposite of what schools, workplaces, and other institutions are designed to tell us constantly. Protecting yourself, or your friends, is too much of a threat to that system. It will not be tolerated.

Which makes me hope Kick-Ass 2 will focus on Mindy and Dave’s struggles in high school. Sure, Mindy’s final scene suggests this could be played for laughs, as an aside. But it’s a knowing aside. It’s because of bullies that so many young people dream of being vigilante superheroes.

By the way, if you look closely at the poster, it’s one of the smartest examples I’ve seen. The way the characters’ costumes seem to be bleeding away into ink that drips off them in every direction is really expressive of how their identities are fashioned, fabricated, fluid, and fallible. I didn’t mean to alliterate that, but after three Fs, it’s hard to resist adding a fourth.

I’ll confess — as insanely busy as I’ve been, I’ve seen this film twice in cinemas, and would love to see it once more before it goes off the silver screen for good.

9 thoughts on “Kick-Ass

  1. Yes, you were a bit slow in posting this. In the time since the movie has left the big screen, the 19 year-old star
    is going to be a father thanks to his 43 year-old girlfriend and previous mother of two, and his Red Mist co-star
    turned in an awesome sci-fi related turn as a screen writer on the this week’s Steve Guttenberg episode of “Party Down.”

  2. Heh, you know what they say about reality beiong stranger than fiction. Even my fiction… :)

    Is KICK-ASS already out of cinemas? I saw in Yeongdeungpo only a week and a half ago!

  3. The only problem I had with the film was the ending in which a really young Mindy enters high school, but in the U.S. 9th grade is considered the beginning of high school, so it isn’t totally far-fetched.

    In regards to your “positive terrorism,” you might want to check out the new series Justified. It ties in nicely with what you wrote in this post, but you need to watch it from the beginning up to the recently aired episode 10, in which we find out just how flawed “the justice system” really is as Raylan must protect a hard-nosed judge who was made that way by being too kind-hearted when he first started out on the bench–a road on which Raylan finds himself travelling as well. Since I have a vote in the Emmys, I will cast one “Justified’s” way after watching this excellent series as well as for Breaking Bad, another “positive terrorism”-type of show, that has really stepped out of “Mad Men’s” shadow this year.

    As for “Kick-Ass 2: Balls To The Wall,” there are definitely plans for a comic sequel and a subsequent film sequel if everything goes according to plan; however, the film’s director has moved on to bigger and more well-known comic franchises (X-Men: First Class).

  4. I liked it. A fun piece of post-Buffy comic-book fun. I had the impression I’d seen it twice but my diary doesn’t agree. That means I either forgot I hadn’t seen it twice or I forgot to fill in my diary. Either way I find as I approach 50 my memory isn’t what it used to be :-)

  5. John,

    Yeah, I thought Mindy was only a little young for high school, but I bet she’s better equipped (tactically and intellectually) to handle it than kids who got there via middle school anyway.

    Thanks for the recommendation on Justified… I love Breaking Bad, though I’m behind, having only seen the first few seasons. (Need also to catch up on Mad Men… sometime.)

    I guess there’s always the comic to make more tolerable the wait for Kick-Ass 2 to come out. I hear the comic is way more violent, and with interesting plot differences… like, the hero admitting he’s not gay doesn’t work out for him at all. (Apparently Katie has her new boyfriend beat him up, and constantly emails the poor guy photos of her fellating the new guy to make him even more miserable, IIRC.)


    Yeah, I really liked it. I wish I’d seen it thrice, but I only saw it twice. I’m curious to hear what the students in my Pop-Culture class thought of it, since it’s one film I assigned for the panel discussion on Super-Heroes.

  6. I thought the movie was a blast, and your point about the universal hypocrisy it exposes is a good one. The scene where the kid finally manages to beat up some bad guys, and says he’d rather die than watch another person being brutalized, is pretty amazing when you watch it, then sobering and shaming when you think about it afterwards.

  7. And then you see Real Life Super Heroes and see their videos on Youtube and you feel kinda normal and unhypocritical again.

    Though, even so, I still think my point about that universal hypocrisy stands…

    Huh, I’m actually working (slowly) on a short story where this real life superhero thing is one of the main threads… with carbon trading being the other.

  8. *facepalm* I guess it’s so easy to sympathize with the angsty & hyper teenager that I forget the incredible frivolity and narcissism involved in trying to be a “real” superhero. (As opposed to simply finding ways to be of service.)

  9. Heh. Yup.

    Part of the drama that seems to be central to the RLSH narrative is that this is (or has become) a world where someone has to put on a costume in order to serve his or her society. I guess these people have never volunteered at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

    That said, the anonymity of the costumes suggests to me a wider range of types of service than are usually imaginable. I can easily imagine someone in Korea, where the social pressures not to get involved in others problems are enormous, finally deciding the only way to be moral would be to rely on anonymity. Even just a ski mask slipped on around a corner, so that someone could return to the oh-so-common scene of the drunk man beating up his girlfriend on the sidewalk, while a crowd watches. Heaven knows I sometimes dream of pounding those guys into the pavement — though I know that if I did, and the cops showed up, I’d be deported, especially since the woman would, nine time out of ten, defend her assailant and say I was out of line getting involved.

    (And let alone defending kids against mentally unbalanced parents, like this prick we saw at a Buddhist temple cussing out his son like a mugger and punishing him for being sad about it.)

    EDIT: Also, one thing I find kind of interesting is the role of costumed actions in historical protests, and how they seem to have become less and less a part of mass action. But I think I’ll save that for an actual post.

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