Thursday, 3 December 2015

Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

At the time of its release, this action-comedy was China's highest-grossing domestic film.  It's been supplanted since then, but clearly it was a big commercial success.  It was also critically successful, with many award nominations, and several wins, across the Asian cinema industry.

So when I say that I don't think it works quite as well for Western audiences as it does for Chinese ones, that's really not much of an indictment.  It's still an entertaining flick - though by no means a flawless one.

It's 1920s China - a pretty wild and lawless time - and bandit chief "Pocky" Zhang ambushes the train of an incoming governor.  The official in question, by the name of Ma, is a bit of a conman, and pretends to be merely his own counselor so as to not seem like a valuable prisoner.  This gives Zhang the idea to impersonate the governor himself, taking the supposed counselor along to assist him.

To Zhang's chagrin, it turns out that being governor of a city in this troubled decade isn't quite the gravy train he thought it would be.  Mostly it's extorting money out of the poor to fill the pockets of the rich.  Zhang has no interest in being someone else's lackey, though.  His independent ways soon bring him into conflict with Master Huang, whose money and hired thugs make him the de facto ruler of the region.  It won't be long before things get bloody.

By Western standards the film's combination of farce and violence may feel a little strange, and I am sure there are a few cultural cues that I missed entirely.  Let the Bullets Fly is also pretty bad in its depiction of women: the three with spoken lines are respectively a murder victim, a prostitute, and a rape victim.  It's also a bit on the long side, at a shade over 2 hours.  I think twenty minutes could have been cut easily.

Despite all those complaints though, I enjoyed the film.  The central performances - Zhang, Huang and Ma - are strong and diverse, and the action sequences have a viscerality to them that's often lacking from more wire-fu focused Chinese films.

Worth a look if you're interested in seeing a Chinese rendition of a "1920s gangsters" film.

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