Director: Law Chi Leung
Writer: Sin Ling Yeung, Lo Sin-Ling
Producer: Derek Yee Tung Sing
Cast: Lau Ching Wan, Nicholas Tse Ting Fung, Yang Mi, Jing Boran, Wu Gang, Liu Kai Chi, Jiang Yiyan, Gao Hu, Yumiko Cheng Hei Yi, Chin Kar Lok
Running Time: 100 min.
Ever since the first trailer for “The Bullet Vanishes” hit the web, the film has been labeled a Chinese take on Guy Ritchie’s 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” film. While the movies do share some superficial similarities – mostly in the realm of musical score and production design – “The Bullet Vanishes” is its own beast. Well, to be fair, director Chi-Leung Law (“Koma”) does lift a slow-motion explosion from Ritchie’s movie…but the comparisons stop there.
After all, “The Bullet Vanishes” gives us not one but two ace detectives trying to solve a most perplexing case. That’s right, Nicholas Tse and Lau Ching-Wan aren’t so much an ‘Eastern Sherlock and Watson’ as they are a Sherlock and Sherlock duo.
Although Nicholas Tse receives top billing, Lau Ching-Wan feels like the lead here and he exudes confidence while steering the movie. The veteran actor spent a few years taking a detour into the realm of romantic comedies, but as of late Lau Ching-Wan seems to be returning to genre territory with films like “Mad Detective” and “Fairy Tale Killer.” If you’re a fan of Wan’s past work in Milkyway flicks like “The Longest Nite” and “A Hero Never Dies,” then you’ll agree that it’s damn good to have him back. He’s an actor capable of displaying cunning intelligence and subtle compassion, both of which his role in “The Bullet Vanishes” calls for.
In the film, a series of murders at a weapons factory spins the surrounding area of Shanghai into turmoil. A prison superintendent recently promoted to detective, Lau Ching Wan travels to the area to work with local cop Nicholas Tse on the case. What’s most puzzling about the murders is that no bullets were found in the bodies, even though the victims were clearly killed by gunfire. During their investigation, our sleuthing duo will have to contend with a factory owner who isn’t afraid to let his tommy gun do the talking; assorted gangsters; and crime scenes that are most reluctant to give up clues.
The production values on “The Bullet Vanishes” are strong, with a slick, big-budget look – almost too slick since the camera is always perched to show off the gigantic sets that are conspicuously empty, driving home the fact that they are merely sets. One particularly creative touch from director Chi-Leung Law is an expository scene that plays out like a black & white silent movie of the era.
On the downside: while the female members of the cast are invariably gorgeous, particularly Nicholas Tse’s love interest Yang Mi, their characters seem like a mere afterthought in the script. The obligatory love scene between Nicholas and his beau comes out of nowhere. And while the filmmakers manage to wrap up their twisty plot in a manner that is satisfactory and neat, they must have thought it was too neat – a last minute game-changing plot twist comes out of nowhere just before the credits roll. Viewers may find they have to twist their brain in knots to make sense of this late-in-the-game revelation, but I’m pretty sure it makes sense. Mostly sure.
“The Bullet Vanishes” is in keeping with the current trend of Chinese moviemaking: a commercial premise with high production values and big name actors. However, the film is not so mass assembled that it lacks personality. Fans of the actors or mystery/thrillers in general should be entertained for the movie’s entire duration. Nicholas Tse continues to age gracefully, not shying away from complex roles, and Chinese genre movies are just plain better off now that Lau Ching-Wan is back.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10