Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Let The Bullets Fly

Title: Let The Bullets Fly
Director: Jiang Wen
Released: 2010
Staring:Chow Yun-Fat, Jiang Wen, Ge You
Plot: Set in 1920’s China were bandit chief “Pocky” Zhang Mazi (Wen) has set his sights on Goose Town, were he plans to assume the identity of the governor in order to pilfer the town’s finances, with the help of small time imposter Ma Bangde (You). Zhang upon arriving at the town soon however finds himself in conflict with local mobster Master Huang (Yun Fat) who lives in a nearby fortified citadel, as the two are soon set on course for a showdown for the control of Goose Town.

Review: In last couple of years we have seen a something of a resurrection of that most wonderful of genres the “Eastern Western”. A genre which recently has gained new additions via Japan (Sukiyaki Western Django) and Korea (The Good, The Bad and The Weird) and even Hollywood have thrown their hat into the ring with “The Warriors Way” and now finally China has entered the fray with this film, as they too attempt to give the world their take on this much overlooked genre whose history can be traced back to the early 1960’s were the Niikatsu studio specialised in films of this type with Japanese cowboys riding the hills and plains of Hokkaido, aswell as films like Eiichi Kudo’s “The Fort of Death” which memorably borrowed the opening scene of the classic spaghetti western “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

Despite being released back in 2010 in its homeland China, were it was the highest grossing film ever until it was beaten recently by “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” and for some has taken until now to finally see a UK release aswell as a limited US release. Still finally this madcap and darkly comedic western can be seen here and ultimately I was left wondering if it was really worth the wait? Well certainly it is a mixed bag of surprises that director Jiang Wen has given us here as he aims for one part black comedy and one part sheer spectacle with over the top action sequences, blazing shoot outs, lush cinematography and some humorous use of CGI which includes a train barrel rolling off the tracks during the opening heist sequence. However due to this mixed bag the film ends up feeling very uneven throughout, as comedic scenes of Huang arguing with his double sitting alongside disembowelling and hosepipe arterial sprays of blood and left me wondering what sort of film Wen was trying to make here, especially when it spends so much of the film tightrope walking between dark comedy and a crime thriller, while the translation has also meant that a lot of the humour has been lost in translation and only adding further confusion to things. Still it is clear that Wen is not looking to take things too seriously and would I can only guess seem to be aiming for a hybrid of Stephen Chow via The Coen Brothers.

One of the main strengths here through is with it’s leads with Jiang Wen pulling triple duty as both the films director, writer and the lead and thankfully to the sacrifice of neither, as he brings an air of gravitas to his on screen presence and is truly believable as the bandit leader, with his moral change non the less believable as he changes his original mission to fight against Wang. Chow Yun Fat is truly back on form here after his recent less than stellar performances in his Hollywood productions, reminds us once again why he is such a Hong Kong screen legend, while the fanboys will no doubt be more than happy to see him back on dual pistol welding form again. Here he is questionably just as good playing the bad guy, as he brings his usual charm and smile while carrying out some less than savoury actions throughout the film as he battles to maintain control of Goose Town. Finally but no less of note is Ge You whose conman, frequently is at the centre of some of the best rapid fire dialogue and while largely used for comedic effect, has no trouble holding his own alongside the better known cast members.

The action scenes are all skilfully shot with a mixture of rapid gunplay shootouts and outrageous trick shooting, with the film broken up with several of these sequences, which ensure that the action never gets too dull, despite being hampered by an overly generous runtime which could have certainly done with some trimming, for as fun as the film is, it still feels way to bloated in it’s current state, while more confusingly despite building up to a huge climatic showdown, Wen instead chooses to end the film with more of a whimper than the much hinted at bang, as the film essentially fizzles out on its conclusion, while it’s title may to some be slightly misleading with it’s sporadic moments of action and no doubt disappointing those expecting a film in a more heroic gunplay style, which despite having some fancy gun work is anything but that kind of movie.

While perhaps not as good as the aforementioned “Sukiyaki Western Django” and The Good, The Bad and The Weird”, it still has a sense of fun and certainly is another noteworthy entry for the genre, with the films native success hopefully meaning further additions to the genre may be forthcoming which as an establish fan of the “Eastern Western” I can’t say that it would be a bad thing, though personally I would start with either of those two titles before trying this one, especially as it is far from the best example of the genre.

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