Title: The Bullet Vanishes
Director: Lo Chi-leung
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Sean Lau, Yang Mi, Boran Jing, Wu Gang, Liu Kai-chi, Jiang Yiyan
Plot: Song Donglu (Lau) an eccentric detective and expert in criminology is teamed up with Guo Zhui (Tse) who has a reputation for being “the fastest gunman in Tiancheng”. The pair soon finding themselves trying to solve a series of mysterious shootings at a bullet factory were no bullets can be found.
Review: I’m not sure what it is about Asian cinema but it’s not only proven to be a surprising source of great Westerns such as The Good, The Bad and The Weird and Miike Takashi’s Sukiyaki Western Django especially for someone like myself who never cared for the Western genre. The other surprise has being these Sherlock Holmes style mysteries which we saw so memorably reworked in Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame and now here with this film which takes place in a sumptious vision of 1930’s China.
While our lead might not own a deer stalker hat or even smoke a pipe, there is an unquestionable Holmes like air to Detective Donglu who is introduced testing out one of his theories by hanging himself so that he can compare his own injuries to that of the victim. We also get to see him trying to understand how Fu Yuan (Yiyan) a woman convicted of killing her husband pulled off the murder as he demonstrates as keen a mind for criminology and the criminal mind as he does for detection.
His partner Guo Zhui on the other hand is on first appearances more of the muscle of the pairing and while he certainly gets to demonstrate some impressive shooting skills, he also comes with an indepth knowledge of firearms and balistics which certainly come in handy in this case especially in figuring out how the owner of the bullet factory was able to win a round of Russian roulette refered to here as “Fate of the Heavens” and makes up one of several mysteries that the film presents over the course of it’s runtime including a locked room mystery. At the same time director Lo Chi-leung even brings his gunslinger knowledge to the action scenes as memorable seen during a shootout were he must work out the range of the badguy during a tense stand off.
Of course when it comes to these kinds of mysteries there is the tendency to provide far fetched explanations to solve the mysteries being presented and thankfully Lo Chi-leung never resorts to such thing as every mystery has for the most part a logical explanation. That being said if the solution for the Phantom bullets actually would work or not if unclear but certainly it atleast seems plausible. Still it’s an intoxicating blend of mystery and action that we get here and which works only the better due to the skills set of the films two detectives.
Heading up the villain quota for the film is Liu Kai-chi as the factory owner Boss Ding a truly odious cigar smoking villain who is more than happy to send his thugs to impose his will on not only his workers but anyone who opposes him and certainly Lo Chi-leung wastes little time in establishing just how ruthless he is as the film opens to him forcing a female worker he has accused of stealing bullets to play him in a game of Russian roulette or “Fate of the Heavens” as he refers to it as and what will be seen as the catalysis for the phantom bullet murders which start befalling his men. Even with such an obvious lead villain the film still manages to work in numerous other twists as it soon become clear that this is a mystery that goes a lot deeper than Boss Ding’s questionable business practices.
Sadly while we do get a lot of strong male characters, here the female cast are rarely given as much to do, other than to pop in and out of the story to provide a clue or uncover a piece of evidence to keep the story running. That being said Yang Mi is great as the fortune teller Little Lark. Sadly used to lesser effect is Yumiko Cheng as the coroner who for some reason also keeps an Ostrich in her lab, the reasons for frustratingly never being revealed.
A gorgeous looking mystery if one which will no doubt draw comparisons to Guy Richie’s take on Sherlock Holmes, despite the film constantly proving that it’s able to stand on it’s own merits even if it does choose to break up the pair just when I was looking forward to hopefully getting a series of adventures with them which is sadly dashed in what very much felt like was a tacked on epilogue to the story as Lo Chi-leung opts for one last twist instead of ending the film at it’s logical end point. Despite this what remains is a fun mystery complimented by action scenes which are as often as inventive as the detection methods.