Written by: David Brook
Director: Jiang Wen
Screenplay: Guo Junli, Jiang Wen, Li Bukong, Shu Ping, Wei Xiao, Zhu Sujin
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Jiang Wen, Ge You, Feng Xiaogang
Producer: Jiang Wen, Lee Albert, Tung Barbie, Yin Homber, Zhao Hai Cheng
Country: China/Hong Kong
Running Time: 132 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I wasn’t aware of this film until Metrodome got in touch offering a screener to review it. With Chow Yun-Fat starring and promise of him returning to his bullet ridden action days after a long hiatus of tackling almost solely period pieces, I had to take them up on the offer. While Let the Bullets Fly isn’t The Killer, presented more as comedy action, it was still a welcome, if rather flawed surprise.
Despite Yun-Fat heading all the publicity, director and co-writer Jiang Wen is the star here playing Pocky Zhang, the renown head of a bandit crew that ambush a train carrying Counsellor Tang (Feng Xiaogang) and his lady-friend Mrs. Ma (Carina Lau). They aren’t carrying any loot, so Tang convinces the bandits to follow him to the town where he was due to present their new governor and pretend that Zhang is this man. When he arrives in town though, he grows to like his new position and sees new potential in the role, throwing his weight around to create a small civilisation that lives by his radical, seemingly fair rules. Unfortunately Master Huang (Yun-Fat), who pretty much owns the town due to his great wealth and control over the inhabitants, doesn’t like this newcomer lording over everything. As both Huang and Zhang discover just how devious the other can be, they set in place trap after trap to bring them down.
This rather complicated and occasionally madcap action comedy felt at times like a Chinese The Good, the Bad, the Weird, with a labyrinth-like plot of one-upmanship and twists aplenty providing an opportunity for some over the top action sequences. Let the Bullets Fly doesn’t quiet hit the highs of Kim Jee-woon’s hugely entertaining action extravaganza, but it certainly has its moments. Most effective is the film’s style and tone, which is playful and energetic, keeping things fresh and fun throughout. The colourful and vibrant cinematography provided by Zhao Fei (Raise the Red Lantern) aids this. It’s not as meticulously beautiful as that of say Zhang Yimou’s work over the last decade and some dodgy CGI hampers the look of the film at times, but it has a bright almost comic book quality which complements the film’s tone perfectly.
Also very effective are the two leads. Jiang Wen is great, carrying the necessary strength, leadership and intelligence required for his role with ease. Chow Yun-Fat meanwhile seems to be relishing the rare chance to play a bad guy and has lots of fun toying with his nemesis and minions.
Unfortunately the film does suffer from a few key problems. For one, the film gets unnecessarily complicated very quickly and I must admit I found it very confusing at times. It’s a bit of a mess in the plot department. The twists and turns do add to the fun, but it gets to a point where you just wish it would scale things back a bit. With such a complex story, it relies on dialogue far too often and as much as Wen uses interesting editing techniques to spice these up, it becomes a bit of a chore to battle through all of the explanations of the plots, schemes and politics. This all leads to the film growing far too long too, weighing in at 132 minutes, which is a bit much for an action comedy romp.
So it ends up being a bit of a bloated mess overall, but I still enjoyed the energy of the film. There isn’t a huge amount of action, but when it comes it is gleefully silly, bloody and over the top, if a little reliant on CGI at times. With Hong Kong action cinema in hard times with the likes of Korea, Thailand and Indonesia muscling in on the action, it’s nice to see the region trying something a little different whilst bringing back one of their biggest stars and placing him in a fresh role and setting.
Let the Bullets Fly is out on 27th August on DVD from Metrodome releasing. Picture and sound quality were fine. There were absolutely no features at all on my disc though, not even optional subtitles (the English titles are fixed) or a chapter menu.