Fantastic Fest Review: Let The Bullets Fly

30 Sep

Let the Bullets Fly, the story of a bandit (Jiang Wen) posing as the new mayor of a village and then fighting for control with the local godfather of crime (Chow Yun-fat), is the highest grossing domestic film in Chinese history.  It broke all of the records there when it was released in 2010. Grossing $111.1 million actually.  I knew that before I went to see it.  I knew that both Chow Yun-fat and Jiang Wen are two of the greatest actors to ever come out of China.  And I knew this was a historical action movie, which is often what Chinese filmmakers do best.  So, needless to say, I went into this movie with some pretty high expectations.

I was not let down.  Let the Bullets Fly is an action comedy that I would rank among the best action comedies of all time.  Movies like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, and even Bad Boys.  It used to be that when a person said “Action Comedy” it didn’t imply lame one-liners, actors talking to the camera, zero plot, etc.  It was usually rated R for violence, and the comedy was not something that you would let your kids watch.  And it was a movie to get excited about.  If a movie is going to be released into theaters today, and it has the description “Action Comedy”, then it seems to be required to be PG-13 tops.  Let’s think Rush Hour 1, 2, or 3 here.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the return to the action comedy greatness that I grew up with not only came from a Chinese production, but gave me a historical setting as well.  The action is nonstop.  We are treated to explosions, sword fights, martial arts, train wrecks, horse chases, interrogations, and anything else you would hope to be included in a film called Let the Bullets Fly.

But the laughs come just as easily.  And they are not always from the expected place either.  Let me explain.  When I go to a Chow Yun-fat movie billed as a historical adventure, I am expecting Chow Yun-fat to destroy everyone with his brilliant fighting style.  That is simply not the case here.  In fact, a good chunk of the comedy comes from this well-known movie warrior.  And while he has done comedy before, I still wasn’t really expecting it here.  It was a nice surprise.

So, we have action comedy brilliance mixed in with an incredible historical setting, and a story brought to us by two of the greatest actors to ever jump off of a Chinese movie screen.  Perfection?  Not quite.  This movie has one of the most confusing plots I have experienced recently.  And parts of the film leave the audience just as baffled as the characters on screen.  And in one sense this made the whole thing more fun.  I personally like having to second-guess myself when watching a movie.  But when you’re already trying to keep up with the subtitles, this can become a much more difficult task than it normally would be.

Overall, I heartily recommend this film.  I had a huge smile plastered across my face through the entire thing.  And if you can refrain from drinking as heavily as most of the audience at Fantastic Fest, you’ll be able to keep up with the plot and enjoy it as well.

-david

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