Brisbane 2011 Review: LET THE BULLETS FLY

Set in war-torn 1920s China Let the Bullets Fly sees director Jiang Wen (Devils on the Doorstep) cast himself in the lead as notorious Robin Hoodesque bandit Pocky Zhang.

rating: 3.5

Set in war-torn 1920s China Let the Bullets Fly sees director Jiang Wen (Devils on the Doorstep) cast himself in the lead as notorious Robin Hoodesque bandit Pocky Zhang. Following the capture of small-time phoney counsellor (The Banquet film-maker and Kung Fu Hustle star Feng Xiaogang) in a rip-roaring opening train heist - Zhang assumes his identity and appoints himself as the new governor of the remote provincial Goose Town. However neither him nor his newly appointed aide bank on the cunning charismatic prowess of local gold-toothed godfather Wang (a never better Chow Yun-Fat also playing his own dutiful double) who challenges both to a deadly battle of wit and brutality. This set-up makes for a rich narrative thrust that unveils a complex set of mind games and political skulduggery. It's the films' allegiances to Kurosawa, Leone and the spaghetti western, however that ultimately makes this such an engrossing and colourful thrill ride. From the pure cinematic spectacle (elaborate crane shots, use of wide-angle lenses et al), to the cartoonish action sequences enhanced with CGI hilarity and the Ocean Eleven type witty banter between the three exceptional leads - whose chemistry simply bleeds off the screen - Let the Bullets Fly demands audience attention, not least for keeping up with the frenzied dialogue and thus whip-pan subtitles. But with all the dynamic double-crossing and identity swapping it requires an acute eye and an ability to decode convoluted narrative details to completely fathom all the elaborate games at play here - which makes a second viewing advisable, (thankfully it will feature again for Aussie audiences as the opener to the2011 Gold Coast Film Festival). But that's not to say there aren€™t plenty of madcap moments of physical comedy to cut through all the centre-stage converting. One particular stand-out involves a character literally losing his behind, while another sees the hysterical ping-pong torment of another unfortunate. While there are jarring moments of narrative incoherence that render some of the humour impossibly lost in translation, this politically savvy, smarter than smart rice-noodle comedy-western, (setting new records as the highest grossing Chinese film ever made when it was released in China last December) marks a new exciting chapter for Chinese cinema and justifiably deserves to become an equal international hit too.
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Oliver Pfeiffer is a freelance writer who trained at the British Film Institute. He joined OWF in 2007 and now contributes as a Features Writer. Since becoming Obsessed with Film he has interviewed such diverse talents as actors Keanu Reeves, Tobin Bell, Dave Prowse and Naomie Harris, new Hammer Studios Head Simon Oakes and Hollywood filmmakers James Mangold, Scott Derrickson and Uk director Justin Chadwick. Previously he contributed to and has had other articles published in Empire, Hecklerspray, Se7en Magazine, Pop Matters, The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle and more recently SciFiNow Magazine and The Guardian. He loves anything directed by Cronenberg, Lynch, Weir, Haneke, Herzog, Kubrick and Hitchcock and always has time for Hammer horror films, Ealing comedies and those twisted Giallo movies. His blog is: