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Let the Bullets Fly (2012)

May 10, 2012

5/10 Misfires

…or let them sit in the chamber. Whatever.

Set in 1920s China, Let the Bullets Fly is about an infamous bandit who hijacks a wealthy governor’s train, assumes the governor’s identity, and makes for a wealthy town that he plans on robbing. Once inside the town walls, he begins butting heads with a local kingpin who rules over the citizens with an iron fist. Though outwardly civil to one another, the two men start devising plots to take control away from the other and take the town for themselves in the process.

Once I saw the title, once I saw the poster, visions of The Good, The Bad, The Weird began pouring right over me. For those who don’t know, that is a sensation without equal. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is one of the greatest action movies I’ve ever seen, might even be one of the best movies of the past decade for that matter. It’s insane, it’s hilarious, it’s epic, and there just ain’t a weak link in the chain. The thing is, someone involved with this movie obviously saw that movie because there’s quite a lot in common between the two. That’s alright, more film makers could learn a thing or two from that movie. But there is downside to modeling your movie after something so Earth-shatteringly awesome as The Good, The Bad, The Weird: there’s a good chance you’re setting yourself up for failure in the process.

Case in point: Let the Bullets Fly.

In its defense, what an awesome title. John Woo probably dropkicked his dog clear across the Atlantic for not thinking of it first. It’s a title that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and that’s very much a selling point. Sometimes all you want in a movie is an excuse to veg out while people shoot things for two hours, and this one sounds like a doozie.

And that, dear readers, is why you don’t a judge book by its cover.

In reality, there’s only one real instance where the guns are blazing and the bodies are dropping – where this movie lives up to its name. It’s a good scene, it’s just not good enough to make up for the all other ones that don’t even come close to it. And while there isn’t a scene that goes by without a good old Mexican standoff, it’s usually just thrown in there for effect, like an unnecessary exclamation point, or someone typing in all caps. Most of those usually end in a ceasefire, too. Good times.

Folks, even without expectations, this is all very disappointing and makes for a terribly misleading title. It’d be one thing if its rehashed Robin Hood tale and lengthy scenes of dialogue made up for it, but I’m guessing you already know the answer to that one.

As far as the story goes, it’s a surprisingly tough one to follow, way tougher than it needed to be. Too much talking for the sake of talking, too much repetition from one plot point to the next, “too much” is actually a pretty common them here. Not an impossible story to keep up with, but not sure why it’s so compelled to overcomplicate a storyline that could have benefited from a good dose of simplicity. Although the real problem with this movie is its tone. It’s billed as an action comedy, and though it certainly tries to be just that, it rarely strikes a balance. It’s usually way too dark to be funny, it’s usually way too over-the-top to be funny, and the occasions that it does get some laughs, the moment is awfully fleeting. Dark can be funny, so can over-the-top, but some of the gags here on par with watching a whoopee cushion at a funeral or a Mr. Sparkle commercial out of context. As much as I can give it points for trying, none of it really gels and so much of the movie relies on it.

Not to mention that some of the scenes and plot developments are flat-out fuckin’ nonsense. For instance, a particular scene where one of the gangster’s henchmen accuses one of the bandit’s henchmen of eating an extra bowl of jelly without having paid for it. After a brief argument that escalates faster and higher than any jelly argument has ever reached, the bandit’s henchman decides there is only one way to clear his good name. Cue him pulling out his knife and performing seppuku on himself, then scooping out the contents of his stomach into a jelly bowl before dropping dead.

I don’t even know. I guess I was supposed to laugh or something.

Needless to say, the movie kinda lost me at that point and never quite recovered. Maybe I just don’t have the same sense of honor that these bandits take oh so seriously, but even just having read the description, that’s a pretty stupid scene, right? That was the best they could come up with to kill off a character without having him murdered?

Death by jelly. Classic China.

But hey, at least the cast is fine. Director/star Wen Jiang is easily the most watchable as infamous bandit Pocky Zhang; Chow Yun-Fat is a tad much as the town kingpin; and that’s about it for people you might know/people I’d care to mention. Yeah, that wasn’t much of an endorsement either. 5 is starting to sound like a pretty generous Verdict. Anyway…

Apparently this was a kimono-crapper of a hit in its homeland of China, so either I’m totally missing something or China’s got some low-ass expectations. There’s also a strong possibility that it just got lost in translation, and immediately comparing it to one of the best movies I’ve seen in years certainly didn’t help either. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to call Let the Bullets Fly a bad movie, it’s just kinda there. It’s clear that some effort went into making this, and some things are actually kinda fun, but my fondest memory of Let the Bullets Fly was how uninterested I was in this long, boring movie.

Always a great feeling to walk away with.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2012 12:07 am

    Well, I did it twice, because it’s really really hilarious:)! Sorry you felt bored due to the translation and cultural difference I guess:).

    • May 11, 2012 11:10 am

      Yeah, I don’t know what it was, but things just didn’t click for me. The reviews have been pretty positive, so it may very well be me. Glad you liked it though, wish I had the reaction that you did.

  2. May 18, 2012 4:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Ryaandavis.

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