Published Mar 01, 2012Acknowledging inherent idiosyncrasy, actor-turned-director Jiang Wen's hugely successful (in China) Let the Bullets Fly is a Chinese action-comedy/Western that radically promotes laissez faire individualism and self-preservationist misanthropy.
It's like a cynical and didactic living cartoon that routinely defies the laws of physics in action choreography while characters dramatically sneer and screech their way through playing hostile, self-serving caricatures within a proposed fascist, old west (or east) ideology.
Within this vacuum of sheer chaos, the plot follows standard spaghetti western tropes, with a group of bandits, led by Pocky Zhang (Wen), robbing a train, only to discover that the passengers, Ma (Ge You) and his wife (Carina Lau), are ersatz, self-proclaimed Robin Hoods, travelling from town to town impersonating governors for riches. Hopping on board this concept, Zhang butts heads with fascist dictator gangster Huang (Chow Yun-Fat) when he takes his first stab at imposter scheming in Goose Town.
What unfolds is a series of exaggerated arguments and perplexing set pieces involving giant drums, implausible acrobatics and insular sexual innuendos. This very specific form of physical comedy steps aside only when Zhang reluctantly accepts his role as a revolutionary hero, or cowboy, liberating the denizens of Goose Town with a sense of individual justice.
What's interesting is that despite the progressive values professed, none of the characters are particularly redeemable, leaving this template of liberation feeling vaguely tongue-in-cheek (if all people are horrible, why should they be trusted with freedom?). This seems intentional, much like the conflicting genre set-up, finding some comedy from didactics.
But since the politics involved in this visual spectacle are secondary to dick and fart jokes, the appeal lies in the various shenanigans and hyper-realized environments Wen has created. Only those keen on hyperbolic Asian genre hybrids will find this appealing, given that these shenanigans go on for more than two hours without a great deal of variation. (Emperor)