Sure, some bullets fly, but I suspect most viewers will be taken aback by how fast words fly in Wen Jiang's hybridized comic actioner. This period tale — set in lawless South China in the 1920s — draws inspiration from deconstructed spaghetti Westerns (a la Tarantino), while also hitting beats of farce, gangster pic and fight film. (Allusions to contemporary Chinese politics are undoubtedly just a coincidence.)
A deceptively simple set-up belies a complicated plot: A bandit (Jiang) and a man posing as governor (You Ge) scheme to take over a provincial town run by a gangster (Yun-Fat Chow). At stake: the usual spoils of power and money, but also the reputations of all three men, who rely as much on their brains as on their brawn (or hired brawn) to retain control.
Thus, there is a lot of rapid-fire dialogue (much of it intended to dissemble), short cons, long cons and double-crosses galore. It makes for a relatively dense film, and at two-hours-plus, Bullets feels a little long — the twists and fake-outs just never seem to end! But rest assured, martial skills matter, too: Though this is not strictly an action film, there are several notable fighting scenes and some entertaining gunplay.
You'll need to stay alert, though, as most of the major characters are simultaneously various versions of themselves while also pretending to be somebody else. For instance: Upon reaching the town, the bandit poses as the governor, whereas the man formerly posing as the governor now pretends to be his aide, except, of course, when he is with the bandit-turned-fake-governor and is sort of his prisoner. And that's just the first reel. In Mandarin, with subtitles. Starts Fri., June 29. Harris