Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

Director: Jiang Wen
Plot: 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.

Genre: Action/Comedy
Awards: -
Runtime: 132min
Rating: NC16 for some violence and sexual scenes.




Jiang Wen is one of China’s less well-known directors, especially to filmgoers outside of China. Famously acting as the male lead opposite Gong Li in Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum (1988), Jiang is a more familiar face than name, but the few works that he has directed have appeared in major film festivals worldwide including his most acclaimed feature Devil on the Doorstep (2000), which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. His latest endeavor, Let the Bullets Fly, for better or worse, is significantly more mainstream, and is a surprising box-office hit in mainland China.

Let the Bullets Fly is a bizarre film to begin with. It is a film that does not know whether to take itself seriously or not as an action-comedy. It starts with a tense sequence showing a few bandits attempting to rob a train with the governor and his wife aboard. It is serious business, with quick cuts of the bandits taking aim with their rifles, suggesting a well-planned attack. And then the big moment comes when the train is derailed. It is a moment that leaves me stunned.

Let the Bullets Fly is not so much an action film in the context of a pure Asian martial arts flick, but a comedy with Western-action elements that even the characters themselves find funny to be involved in. Frankly, if there is a sub-genre called farcical cinema, this film would be an excellent example. To his credit, Jiang’s direction of the actors is quite impressive, with the chemistry between Chow Yun-Fat, Ge You, and Jiang himself showing positive signs of spot-on comic timing, though it must be said that much of the humor is derived from mind games played not only to confuse and amuse viewers but also to themselves.

Let the Bullets Fly is without doubt an exercise in exaggeration – everything from acting to dialogue to dramatic set-pieces – such that the film overwhelms viewers before it even passes the midpoint mark. As a result, the second half becomes too entertaining for its own good, with potential viewers likely to feel empty watching the flurry of activities that occur on screen. The lead characters are also not developed fully, if they are developed at all. They are almost the same at the start of the film as the end, with no clear transformation. Worse, Jiang’s film ends predictably and unsatisfyingly, even to the extent of meaninglessly linking the epilogue back to the opening sequence.

In a nutshell, Let the Bullets Fly is a lamentable attempt to break into commercial filmmaking by Jiang, though box office figures tells us a different tale. Despite charismatic actors on board, the film seems to drag along with the sole motivation to quench viewers’ thirst for more farce. Stay away from this unless you like draggy, farcical films.

GRADE: C- (5.5/10 or 2.5 stars)
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