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Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
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Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues. Written by
At the time of this writing, this is listed as China's highest-grossing domestic film. I went into it expecting some kind of action-packed blockbuster (especially with the title "Let the Bullets Fly," got me expecting stylish John Woo style gunfights or something). I should have known that this film couldn't be identified by blockbuster terms; it's actually a pretty weird and goofy film, with far less emphasis on action and much more on setting up intricate dialogues and intricate plot points. On its own merits, the film is very fast-paced and dense; it has some gunfighting and action, and a few rather violent scenes, but most of it is focused on the storytelling.
The storytelling is satisfying. Even though the comedy can be a huge hit-or-a-miss, and there are a few unbelievable scenes, the characters shine through and dominate the spotlight. It's hard not to enjoy the antics of the bandits and the thugs, and their complex interactions. It's especially hard not to appreciate the complexity of the plotting and counter-plotting that both gangs go through; with the rapid-fire pacing, it may be convoluted for some viewers, but I was never fully lost. Each scene is set up to advance the plot in strange new directions, leading up to a rather fun climax. In the end, I enjoyed watching the chemistry between the characters and their intricate mind games, more than the action.
This film has quality photography, and some really fast editing. Acting can be very over-the-top, but Chow Yun-Fat and Jiang Wen both put on iconic performances. Writing is quite witty and sharp. This production has fine-looking period sets, props, and costumes. Certain special effects look awful, but they are few and very far between. Music for this picture is okay (it includes a pretty odd use of drums and chanting toward the end).
Chances are that some folks will find the comedy, fast pacing, and complex plot a little hard to follow, so I'd recommend it as a rental. Connoisseurs of Asian cinema will probably enjoy this a little more easily than average western audiences.
4/5 (entertainment: 4/5, story: 4.5/5, film: 4/5)
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