Wen Jiang films aren't known to be all that accessible. My first experience with his work (The Sun Also Rises) was a somewhat bewildering experience, but it definitely left me with a taste for more. His latest stays true to his trademark style, but turns out to be surprisingly accessible. If you've always wanted to see a Wen Jiang film but were afraid to try, here's your chance. Let The Bullets Fly [Rang Zi Dan Fei] is an admirably entertaining film that is sure to amuse novice and hardcore film fans alike.
Let The Bullets Fly is Jiang's first outspoken comedy. The Sun Also Rises contained its fair share of humorous moments, but still featured strong dramatic undertones. These are all gone here, leaving the viewer with a simple and rather frivolous tale of rivalry, following the battle of wit between two infamous criminals. It's a Chinese period film, meaning it's not exactly void of any political or nationalistic sentiments, but these are merely circumstantial and never get in the way of the film itself.
Jiang himself plays a small-time thief with big plans. He and his Robin Hood-like gang of crooks are planning to kidnap the newly appointed governor of Goose Town, take his place and rid the town from a well-settled criminal (Huang) who's been controlling the city during the short-lived reign of the previous 52 governors. Things don't go as well as planned though, Huang proves to be a worthy adversary and the dethroned governor seems to possess a pretty sharp mind himself. What follows is a nifty game of chess.
Jiang hired 9 scriptwriters to finish his script, challenging them to integrate Huang as neatly as possible while keeping actor Chow Yun-Fat in mind. This definitely shows in the final result as Huang's character fits Yun-fat like a glove. It illustrates Jiang's dedication to making a good film, even though it is one merely created for entertainment, without any deeper levels or ulterior motives.
Let The Bullets Fly is visually accomplished, though it never reaches the heights of The Sun Also Rises. Jiang's style remains a little too slick for my taste, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to admire here. Great use of color, neat editing, great visual pacing and some very well-planned shots. There is some sub-par use of CG, especially near the beginning and ending of the film, but it's all functional and doesn't really detract from the experience.
The soundtrack is quirky and fun, pretty playful in places and goes very well with the overall atmosphere. Sound effects in particular are outspoken and deliberately over-the-top, adding to the amusing vibe that run throughout the film. The score itself is once again handled by Joe Hisaishi who's name is synonymous with quality, clearly audible here. It's nothing too out of the ordinary or mind-blowing, but it just oozes refinement and grants the film an extra boost in just the right places.
As for the acting, if you want to understand Jiang's sense of humor it suffices to observe the way he portrays his character here. Seeing him act in Let The Bullets Fly, I was very much reminded of Takeshi Kitano. Jiang blasts through his own film with that same hint of a smug smile, perfectly aware of the nonsense he is shouting but still putting 200% effort into his role to reach maximum effect. Opposite of him stands Chow Yun-Fat who looks like he hasn't had this much fun acting in a long, long time. The both of them create an epic stand-off between two small-time yet successful crooks, unable to admit defeat and taking the battle one step further each time they face each other. You would almost forget that You Ge is also in here, playing the sneaky governor and acting as a perfect third wheel, boycotting both Jiang's and Chow's plans whenever it is convenient to his own wellbeing. To put it short: the acting is absolutely incredible and a real joy to behold.
It's obvious that Jiang is making full use of his freedom as a director. This is his film and whatever he seems fit will happen. Some scenes don't make much sense, some comedy bits are a little far-fetched, others completely random, but whenever Jiang appears in the frame it's clear he's just toying with his audience a little while still providing all the necessary entertainment. It might be that you don't appreciate such follies, but Jiang never comes of as condescending or pretentious and is simply having a blast making his film.
The ending isn't the big climax you might've expected, it's a little more refined than that, but it definitely fits the film. For all the entertainment value on offer here, Let The Bullets Fly is just not a regular big budget affair that is held down by conventions. It's a remarkable blend of arthouse and commercial cinema that strikes a perfect balance between entertainment and cinematic wonder. In that sense, the ending is just perfect and finishes off the film with a final nod of genius.
Whether this film will strike a cord with seasoned Jiang fans is a little uncertain, you have to appreciate the kind of humor he puts on show here, but I'm certain this film has everything to appeal to a very large and wide audience. It's been a while since I've been this amused by a film, happily taking in all the joy that emits from its every pore. Definitely recommended and I'm already looking forward to his next film.