Let the Bullets Fly
160 min | Historical drama | Comedy
Directed by Jiang Wen
reviewed by Julie O’Yang
*This review is commissioned by a well-known website about China
On 16 December 2010, actor-turned-director Jiang Wen (Hibiscus Town) presented his fourth directorial creation Let the Bullets Fly, which is packaged as an “early present for the Chinese New Year”. Originally planned to be released in September, the film was pushed back only by a few months. Hitting the screen nationwide, immediately it broke several box office records as well as received critical acclaims – which leaves you wonder: who are the guys that call themselves critics?
Budgeted at $18 million, Bullets is yet another story that tells about a bunch of gangsters from a faraway rural area. Instead of daggers, this time it is advanced gunshots that cast the lethal Oriental charm.
During the tumultuous 1920s, the control of the country is divided between a number of bandit leaders, among whom the notorious Pocky Zhang (Jiang Wen). When Zhang marches into the remote Goose Town one day, posing as their freshly installed mayor, he is accompanied by a hustler named Tang (Ge You), the latter being the originator of the scam. However, Zhang’s endeavours are soon to be met by hindrance from a local crook, Huang (Chow Yun Fat) who lives in his fortified citadel overlooking the town. The boisterous drama plays out centred around men aspiring for wealth and power. When Zhang, the counterfeit bureaucrat has no intention of sharing his ill-gotten gains with a villain he despises as much as he reveres, tensions between the two camps quickly explodes into bloodsheds. All of a sudden, the picturesque Goose Town bathes in the terror of power struggling film stars, and the one woman (Carina Lau) in the company doesn’t seem to care either whom she wants to marry as long as he is rich and knows the knack to make a rain of romanticised bullets. Very Chinese indeed. Or at least this is Hollywood – who is the producer of the Oriental Western – wants to see from China these days. However, the gunplay story is whispered to bear a deeper layer about social problems, wealth problems, and many more hidden messages on things that would otherwise never be said. But yet even with the noble intent in mind, the 2 hours and 40 minutes exploit seems way too long and might just as well be cut to less than 2 hours for the same – if not a better – result.
Alongside scenic violence, Chinese flavoured legends, “Chow Yun Fat playing Chow Yun Fat” plus a forward display of star power, Jiang Wen did add a refreshing element to the tried and tested formula. Bullets is meant to be a comedy, and the fast-paced sequences are littered with pitch-black humour throughout the entire good, old-fashioned entertainment ride too risk-free and comfortable to cause any commotion in Beijing.
Within two and a half days after its launch Bullets has grossed 100 million RMB, allegedly chiefly through social media marketing. Glad to know that Facebook users could access their account again after the Chinese Internet police is blocking Twitter and other social media networks on and off ever since the day of their birth.