On DVD/Blu-ray – Let the Bullets Fly (2011)
by NIR SHALEV
“Pocky” Zhang (Jiang Wen), a notorious bandit, robs a train that’s transporting a man who’s soon to be inaugurated as governor. He assumes the identity of that man and with the help of his newly acquired counselor Ma Bangde (Ge You), they ride on to Goose Town where Zhang takes up the governor’s position. However, Goose Town’s tyrannical local nobleman Master Huang (Chow Yun-Fat) plays mind games with Zhang from the get-go. Together with his six brothers, Zhang starts a war of wits and periodical gunfights with Huang. (Almost every character in the film is equipped with the Luger pistol, later to be popularized by the Germans.) Only one will survive.
The film takes place in the early 1920s and is directed and co-written by Jiang himself. It’s a time period that I enjoy, both thematically and aesthetically.
Let the Bullets Fly is a comedy hybrid that’s centered on funny dialogue, a la situational comedy (think of this as a more composed Stephen Chow film). There is little action in the film, which is probably a good thing because the story is character-driven and -centered; however, when there is action it resembles a shooting gallery rather than traditional complex choreography. And somehow that works very well.
This is a light film that’s filled with humor (which a Chinese audience will understand far better than most Westerners will) and boasts a lot of energy. Its performances are all quite good; I especially liked Chow and Jiang. So why don’t I love this film? Well, it’s probably because I’m not sure what it’s trying to say. One can ignore the overall plot and focus on the characters’ characteristics and motivations, but having done that I’m still not sure what the film is trying to say. That being said, I had fun watching it, even though it’s 132 minutes long.
The cinematography is nice, the film is colorful, and the performances are highly entertaining. I recommend this film as brainless fun but it’s not actually entirely brainless; it may appear so on the outside but the cunning schemes that Zhang and Huang perform on one another are unique and make sense (for the most part). Maybe that’s what I really like about this film, that it’s unique. I can’t place it in a single genre but that’s part of what makes it work.
The distributor’s website claims that the Collector’s Edition DVD and Blu-ray have special features but doesn’t say what they are.
Other new releases this week: Contraband, Pariah