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.
The highest-grossing Chinese film as of May 2012, Jiang Wen's Let the Bullets Fly
(2010) is a fast-paced, frequently funny action-comedy enlivened by Jiang's go-for-broke direction and a thoroughly game cast that includes Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-fat. In addition to writing and directing the period film, Jiang also stars as Zhang, a bandit chief who overtakes a train carrying Ma (Ge You), the incoming mayor of a walled city called Goose Town. To avoid certain death, Ma assumes the identity of his adviser, who was killed during the train takeover, and makes Zhang the new mayor of Goose Town. The bandit's rule is initially opposed by mobster Huang (Chow), who holds the real seat of power in the town through ruthless oppression of the locals. Though a bandit, Zhang is opposed to exploiting the poor, and teams with Ma to unseat Huang through a series of increasingly complicated schemes, many of which hinge on assumed identities, impersonations, and body doubles. This theme of judging a book by its cover runs throughout Let the Bullets Fly
, as all the characters, including a local prostitute (Zhou Yun) and Zhang's henchmen, all identified by numbers, surpass expectations of their respective positions through their actions: Zhang is a bandit, but also a decidedly democratic leader, while incumbent mayor Ma proves a craftier deceiver than his outlaw partner. The comedy of reversed (and inversed) personalities offers subtle contrast to Jiang's kinetic action set pieces, which career from explosive train derailments to wire-work fights and sprawling shootouts; the balance between action and comedy, the latter driven largely by the performances by the three leads, is handled with a deftness that should serve as a study guide for American filmmakers (or whoever remakes the picture, as it's already been optioned for an English-language remake) attempting the same blend. The Blu-ray/DVD combo presentation offers trailers for several other Asian features from the Well Go label; the collector's edition Blu-ray offers interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a slew of webisodes devoted to its production. --Paul Gaita