Let The Bullets Fly

Let The Bullets Fly


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The plan has been enacted but nothing is happening yet. "What will the outcome be?" the bandits ask nervously. Number one urges patience. "Let the bullets fly a little."

Let The Bullets Fly opens spectacularly, with a stunningly orchestrated attack on a train. It's beautifully shot and the action is thrilling, but even at this early stage the comedy may grate a little. The wacky slapstick on which this film hinges is a traditional Chinese style with parallels in Bollywood and Filipino grindhouse but no real equivalent in the West, and UK audiences are likely to find it a bit hit and miss. Be patient. Let the bullets fly a little. Even if you never quite get into it, there's plenty more here to enjoy.

Number One is played by the redoubtable Wen Jiang, whose dry, charismatic central turn anchors the film and provides its moral focus. There's a hint of Yojimbo (and his descendent, Django) in the mysterious warrior who enters a small town and whittles away at the forces of corruption within it, but this film, whilst mindful of those traditions, has a very different tone. Through a series of early twists, Number One (who has several aliases) finds himself governor of Goose Town, abetted by a duplicitous advisor (Xiaogang Feng) and an ambitious courtesan (Carina Lau). There, not content simply to take money from the poor, he sets himself up against drug lord and human trafficker Master Huang (a suave Chow Yun Fat). Appropriately, it takes a long time for Number One's motives to become clear, but the battle of wills, for all its bizarre manifestations, provides a core of tension that builds steadily toward a spectacular conclusion.

Given the nature of the comedy here, it's difficult to connect much with minor characters and deaths have a limited impact on the viewer despite their obvious importance for Number One. Viewers familiar with the genre will see the humour in this but it doesn't translate well for others. There's also a significant language barrier stemming from the extensive wordplay in Chinese, but here the subtitles do an impressive job and manage to preserve many of the jokes. The slapstick and goofing around don't need any translation.

Comedy aside, the story hinges on cunning plans and double bluffs that, when they work, are very effective indeed. They provide the hooks for a series of impressive set pieces that provide visceral thrills whilst having fun with the tropes of the genre. Fei Zhao's vivid cinematography is every bit as breathtaking as his contribution to classics like Raise The Red Lantern and is matched by superb sound work from Gang Wang and Bo Wen that puts the viewer right in the middle of the action. The pacing between these scenes is a little uneven and the twisting polt risks tying itself in knots, but with such treats to enjoy, it's worth the wait.

Reviewed on: 10 Nov 2012
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Jiang Wen's rumbustious comedy-adventure, set in the 1920s, is an Eastern Western. Chow Yun-Fat, Ge You and Jiang himself star as the three unscrupulous men vying for control of Goose Town: fun performances, and lots of flying bullets.

Director: Jiang Wen

Writer: Zhu Sujin, Shu Ping, Jiang Wen

Starring: Jiang Wen, Chow Yun-Fat, Ge You, Carina Lau, Hu Jun

Year: 2010

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: China, Hong Kong

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