With all of the polish and scale of a modern Chinese blockbuster but none of the pretense or clumsiness, Let The Bullets Fly is as fun to watch as it is stylish and epic. Unlike most of its big-budgeted, all-star peers from the Mainland, its audience members won’t feel like they’re going to be tested on an overblown and somewhat historically based script. If they look down at their cell phones, the only thing they’ll miss out on is well-delivered, clever dialogue from a stellar lineup of actors.
Rising director and world-class actor Jiang Wen (In The Heat of the Sun, Red Sorghum) casts himself as the protagonist of this Western-flavored, action-sprinkled black comedy set in the 1920s: a bandit who seizes the governorship of Goose Town in order to skim money off the rich. It’s a tremendously juicy role in which he gets to display leadership, smarts, and ruthlessness, yet it pales in contrast to his on-screen adversary. Chow Yun-Fat plays the village’s gangster overlord with reckless abandon. The much-loved actor references his entire career, from the coolness of The Killer to the goofiness of God of Gamblers, and his true asset is proven not to be stylized use of firearms but endless charisma. An otherwise exceptional actor such as Ge You (To Live, Farewell My Concubine) can only be a foil as the obsequious, everyman adviser who brings the two together and can’t quite escape their escalating games of cat-and-mouse which ensue.
Populating the historically unique and architecturally potent setting of Kaiping with a gang that wears masks resembling Mahjongg tiles, an array of hookers, and Chow playing his character’s half-wit body double, Jiang has no qualms mixing high and low, intrigue and comedy, or profound and profane themes. The legitimacy of government, marriage, and loyalty of any kind is questioned one after another, but whether he is depicting a ruthless-but-ultimately-pathetic power struggle between thugs or providing commentary on the interchangeability of those in power is neither clear nor important. What matters is that the film delivers on multiple levels without compromise–humor, action, tension, violence–while telling tightly sewn story with the coolest of actors.
Well worth supporting on big screens across the U.S. starting on March 2, although you can watch it on demand as well. Check out the trailer and theaters at http://letthebulletsfly.wellgomovies.com/