Movie Review : Let the Bullets Fly

A film by Jiang Wen


I have to admit it, I have a major man crush on Jiang Wen, which is why I was at the movie theater at midnight last night/this morning to see his newest movie, Let the Bullets Fly. I actually scored the last two tickets available, the midnight and 12:10 screenings were completely sold out, a rarity in China. I’ve tried to stay away from any major spoilers, though there is one minor one, so if you like to go into a movie totally “ fresh ” click away now.

Jiang Wen (who also serves as director and writers) brings together a great cast that also includes Ge You, Chow Yun-fat, Liu Jialing, and Chen Kun. Like a lot of Jiang’s movies, he gets his family involved, his wife, Zhou Yun, and brother, Jiang Wu, also play key roles. There are even brief cameos from celebrated director Feng Xiaogang and Obama’s half brother Mark Ndesanjo.

The film takes place during the republic era and opens with Zhang Mazi (Jiang) and his band of mountain bandits attacking the train carrying the new county mayor, his wife, and his advisor. Shi Ye (Ge You) and the mayor’s wife (Liu Jialing) survive, but when the bandits find out their captives have no money on them, Shi makes the suggestion that being mayor can bring with it more riches than imagined, and since nobody in the village knows what the new mayor looks like (this is back in the days when government positions could be bought, some would argue not so different from today), Zhang decides he’ll make himself mayor.

When Zhang reaches the village, he discovers that despite his title, real power in the county resides in the hands of Huang Silang (Chow Yun-fat), the unpopular county warlord who killed the 5 previous mayors. The tension between the two escalates when Zhang’s “ son ” meets an untimely and violent death. Thus begins an action packed “ chess match ” between the two, with each strategizing and hoping to outwit the other and gain control of the county.

At its most basic, the story is a Chinese version of the classic Robin Hood tale, but this oft tread trope is made interesting by the excellent little details – crisp writing paired with beautiful cinematography and costumes. The writing, in particular, is enjoyable, its clever and manages to bring in a lot of humor. The scene where Zhang questions his bandits about the rape of a woman and each individual explains why it couldn’t have been them was one of the few times I’ve ever experienced an audience applaud during a movie.

This was one of four major movies from bigtime directors being released this month (the Zhao Benshan/Xiao Shenyang “ Just Call Me Nobody ”, Chen Kaige’s “ Sacrifice ”, and Feng Xiaogang’s “ If You Are the One 2 ″) and while I’m sure “ If You Are the One ” will dominate at the box office, this is the one I’d recommend the most. It’s certainly one of the most entertaining (Chinese or foreign) movies I’ve seen this year.

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