Director: Jiang Wen
Writer: Jiang Wen, Shitu Ma
Producer: Dong Ping, Jiang Wen, Albert Lee Nga Bok
Cast: Jiang Wen, Chow Yun Fat, Ge You, Carina Lau Kar Ling, Hu Jun, Chen Kun, Liao Fan, Zhou Yun, Feng Xiaogang, Shao Bing, Bai Bing, Du Yiheng, Hu Ming, Jiang Wu, Ma Ke, Miao Pu, Wei Xiao, Yang Qiyu, Yao Lu, Zhang Mo, Zhao Ming
Running Time: 132 min.
“Let the Bullets Fly” became a breakout hit at the Chinese box office in 2010 and, just a week ago, earned Jiang Wen a Best Director trophy at the Hong Kong Film Critic’s Society Awards. While the film has clearly resounded with Chinese audiences, I have to wonder just how well this particular story travels overseas. This is a movie all about clever wordplay and subtle deceptions – a Western viewer is not only at the mercy of an English translation but how quickly they can process the subtitles whipping by at the bottom of the screen.
As a filmmaker, Jiang Wen isn’t afraid to juxtapose extreme violence with screwball comedy. The acting in “Let the Bullets Fly” is consistently dialed way, way over the top. Chow Yun Fat is given free reign to chew the scenery like a mid-90’s Al Pacino. The film’s visual style is extreme to match; the cinematography has that high contrast look that’s popular right now, with a color palette that often makes skin appear orange and hair resemble teal. Dialogue is shouted, facial expressions are manic. In this movie, bloody gunplay collides with a presentation of reality that is, well, hyper-real – and blatantly absurd. This is not a film for everyone.
In some ways, “Let the Bullets Fly” is a Chinese approximation of a spaghetti Western – we begin with the familiar motif of a train robbery and lead into the ‘mysterious stranger rides into a corrupt, flea-bit town.’ But unlike, say, “The Good, The Bad and the Weird,” this film favors comedic dialogue and visual humor over intensely choreographed action sequences. If you’re expecting this film to live up to its title with “A Better Tomorrow“-style setpieces, you’ll probably go home disappointed. Keep an open mind and you may find this to be one of the most original and vibrant Chinese-language films in years, depending on your taste.
Speaking of which, the film does suffer from questionable taste at times, particularly when the rape of a married woman is played for laughs in the following scene. And “Let the Bullets Fly” is arguably too long for its own good – twenty minutes could have been shaved off without losing anything, except a few scenes where the characters seem overly impressed with how clever they are.
Jiang Wen’s film has already proven a massive success overseas so its reception in other countries is perhaps besides the point. I’m not entirely sure if the story’s meaning has made the transition to North America intact, but fans of Chow Yun Fat and movies that trade in comedic ultra-violence should be mostly entertained. Hours after watching “Let the Bullets Fly,” I still wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Low-budget computer effects and harsh lighting aside, I was admittedly impressed by the filmmaking technique behind this movie. No matter what, I’m glad we live in an age when a movie like this not only makes it past the Chinese censors, but proves to be a massive hit with audiences and earns a Western release.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10