When three close friends escape from Hong Kong to war-time Saigon to start a criminal's life, they all go through a harrowing experience which totally shatters their lives and their friendship forever.
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In 1967, on the way to the wedding of a friend a young man is accosted by a local gang member. Later, the three friends administer justice, in the process of which the gang member is killed, so they leave Hong Kong to avoid the police and the gang. They run black market supplies to Saigon and get embroiled in the war, being arrested as Viet Cong, then later captured by the Viet Cong, and find that their friendship is tested to the limits as they try to escape. Written by
Ed Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During the filming of some of the riot sequences, things got so chaotic on the set that John Woo panicked and ran into several shots. Once, he actually ran into an explosion, which caused large cuts on his head. See more »
When the action moves to Vietnam the movie posters ('Dien Bien Phu', etc.) shown are films that came out well after the Vietnam war was over. See more »
[pointing a gun at Paul]
You shot Frank, now I'll shoot you! But since you're my friend, I'll fire a lethal shot!
See more »
If you've never seen a John Woo movie before, you're in for one hell of a surprise about forty minutes into Bullet in the Head. Up until this point, there has been violence in the film but it has mostly been restricted to street level brawling, clashes between armed police and war protesters in Saigon and punch ups in Hong Kong slums. Then at the height of an argument in a Triad owned nightclub, things get turned up to eleven as Waise Lee pulls a machine gun from out of a piano and massacres an entire room full of gangsters in one breathtaking swoop. After this, things barely let up as Woo mixes in harrowing prison camp madness with over the top gun battles. If this implies that Bullet in the Head has no heart however then nothing could be further from the truth; not only is this an incredibly violent movie, it might also be Woo's most emotional.
Stamped over everything is in the indelible trace of the Tiananmen square massacre, which might explain the film's poor showing in Hong Kong, where it played to the people who faced it first hand far too soon for them to embrace it. Over fifteen years later though, Bullet In The Head could do with a reappraisal so that it might stand on its own two feet, rather than simply being viewed as an Eastern alternative to The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now.
The Eastern setting though provides a fresh spin on the Vietnam war which had already been captured on camera by an America eager to exorcise the ghosts of the war. The story of three ghetto youths (Waise Lee, Jackie Cheung and future superstar Tony Leung) forced to flee Hong Kong, it captures them in their early days before sending them to Saigon, where the trio intend to take advantage of the war and make a fortune. Needless to say, things do not go entirely as planned and they have to flee once more with a box filled with gold they have captured from a local kingpin. Unfortunately for them, there is nowhere to run but into the Vietcong-infected jungle...
For the first time, the true scale of the war is made readily apparent. In the East, it is sometimes known as The Second Indochina War as the conflict didn't restrict itself to Vietnam itself, spilling over into neighbouring Cambodia and Laos and affecting everyday citizens of countries who weren't even involved. Woo's vision of the 1960's Far East is one of unprecedented chaos triggered by the clash of Capitalist and Communist ideologies, where suicide bombs are detonated in traffic jams and citizens plucked from the street to have their heads blown off by overzealous military police. It's an uncompromising vision and no mistake.
All of this is told from the eyes of our heroic trio and the effects of the war leave an impression on all of them. Their friendship is tested to the limit and watching it dissolving, counter-cut with earlier moments when they were smiling, happy youngsters is nigh on heartbreaking. Corny yes, but still heartbreaking.
However, for those of you have seen a John Woo film before and want action on an unprecedented scale, well look no further. The aforementioned nightclub battle is just an impressive iceberg tip, as Woo hurtles the characters from one set piece to the next with a riotous enthusiasm. A riverside gun fight keeps things moving, followed by skirmishes in the jungle and a breath taking helicopter assault on a Vietcong camp, bullets flying in all directions as fireballs bloom upwards and bodies contort in slow motion death rattles. Provided you've got the unedited version, you'll also see a climactic car duel that is better than anything he has done since moving to the States.
Action junkies then will be well sated but what about the rest of us who want bold, creative film making that doesn't have to rely on helicopter explosions to make a point? Well, Bullet in the Head delivers four career defining performances from the leads, a cathartic and emotional script, a harrowing impression of a world with a collapsing social order and a stark political message on the worries of Hong Kong citizens regarding their fate in the 1997 handover. All that's missing is a love story...oh wait, there's one at the beginning. Admittedly, sometimes it is a bit too violent for its own good and Woo could have eased off the throttle to let it breathe a bit, but this is still a film worth catching and a career high point for the auteur.
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