Let the Bullets Fly
East meets West in actor/director Jiang Wen’s wily take on the spaghetti western. Wry social commentary and dark comedy comes with the territory in ‘20s-era China where warlords, politicians, and bandits are practically interchangeable. A group of bandits, led by their wise commander “Pocky” Zhang (Jiang), attack a horse-drawn steam train carrying the new governor of Goose Town. Bullets do indeed fly, though not with the conventional flight-time one normally expects. Every action scene is an opportunity for humor. The governor’s death makes way for “Pocky” (known to his men as Number One) to substitute himself as Goose Town’s respectable leader. Goose Town has a built-in rival for the new governor in the form of kingpin Huang (Chow Yun-Fat), who deals in opium and human beings. The smarmy Huang hosts a dinner for the governor and his freshly minted right-hand man Tang (Xiaogang Feng). Exceptional camera-work by cinematographer Fei Zhao adds to the scene’s editorial import and humorous implications. A deal is brokered for Huang to finance the governor’s scheme to wreak vengeance on the bandits who threaten Huang’s wealth. The irony is that Pocky and his men are actually the bandits in question. A series of strategic gambits finds Pocky playing Robin Hood with Huang’s wealth as the twisting narrative builds toward an elegant climax that brims with equal parts spectacle, humor, and thematic intention. Most gratifying is the director’s charismatic performance as Pocky Zhang, a philosophical leader with an infectious sense of humor. There’s good reason “Let the Bullets Fly” is China’s biggest domestic hit to date. Don’t pass up the chance to see it on the big screen.
Not Rated. 132 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)