Star – Yun Fat Chow
Genre – World Cinema > Martial Arts
Run Time – 132 minutes
Certificate – PG13
Country – Honk Kong/China
Awards – 14 Wins & 34 Nominations
Amazon – £2.83 DVD £6.99 Blue Ray
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In Chinese/Honk Kong cinema you have three types of Martial Arts movies. Generally you have the straightforward good Kung Fu dudes against the bad Kung Fu dudes that can be set in any timeline, you have the martial epic with all those arrows flying through the air and extravagant sword fights in lovely silky tunics, and then the slick Triad shiny suits and fast cars one with slow motion gunplay and plenty of over-the-top wire play in the big cities. And then you have Let the Bullets Fly, a rather ludicrous sprawling epic that deserves its own category if the truth be told.
The multi Asian award winner directed by Jiang Wang pleased the masses big time though and Let the Bullets Fly is now the highest grossing Chinese film ever and so a film to checkout, pulling in $110 million dollars alone in China. It’s about $2 dollars a ticket there to see a movie so you are talking up to 50 million people seeing it. It’s an epic martial arts western set in 1920 Sichen province around the time of the industrial world beginning to arrive in China. That means bandits armed with guns, dynamite and industrialist in ivory towers cashing in on it. It’s a bit like one of my favorite and bonkers Honk Kong movies of all time, Kung Fu Hustle. Its nowhere near as good as that but china loved it.
Yun-Fat Chow ... Master Huang
You Ge ... Ma Bangde
Wen Jiang ... Pocky Zhang
Carina Lau ... Mrs. Ma
Jun Hu ... Fake Pocky
Pu Miao ... Shanxi MIstress
Wu Jiang ... Master Wu
Fan Liao ... Three
Yun Zhou ... Flora
Kun Chen ... Hu WanMo Zhang ...
It’s the warring 1920s rural China as the provinces go head-to-head with warlords trying to seize the embattled Emperors’ lands. A feared bandit called "Pox" Zhang (Jiang Wen) and his gang, each of whom is numbered rather than named, are in the hills looking for targets and preparing to ambush a government horse train carrying minster Ma Bangde (Ge You), who is on his way to a place called Goose Town to assume the position of county governor.
The bandits derail the train, killing both Ma’s bodyguards and, they think, his adviser, Counsellor Tang (Tang-shiye). But Ma has no money, having spent it all to bribe and buy his position in Goose Town. To avoid being killed by Zhang's bandits, he decides to pretend that he is Counsellor Tang and that his real wife (Carina Lau) was the dead governor's wife. He tells Pox and the bandits that, if they spare him and his wife, he will help Zhang to impersonate Ma and pilfer Goose Town.
The bandits pitch up at the impressive town and as no one there knows what there new governor looks like it should be straight forward for Zhang to impersonate him. But he is quickly opposed by local mobster boss Master Huang (Chow Yun Fat), who lives in a fortified castle with most of the town’s money. Ma tells Zhang that previous governors would split with Huang the majority of taxes levied from the towns residents. However, Zhang is a bit of a Robin Hood character and not interested in taking money from the poor.
As yet no one has recognized the deception as the bandit’s bed in. Ma plots to relieve Master Hang of his fortune and will only use force if needed. But Hang is not about to roll over and also plots the governor’s downfall, especially when the governor starts to hand over Hangs money to the poor.
Although it looks great and very colorful in its bold epic approach and some original plotting it’s a bit of a bloated mess. It has an overwritten script, occasional silly exaggerated special effects and all-round incoherence. It’s a right old farce with its finer qualities lost on non-Chinese-speaking audiences not familiar with 1920s warlords and their plundering history. I had no idea what was going on. Apparently some of this is based on a true story. They say the director went though 30 drafts of the script before he was satisfied. Perhaps he should have gone for 31. It looks like he used the first one. I could not make head or tail of this.
As I say its way too long and baggy at 2 ½ hours and at times the film just stops dead as the characters sit around eating chicken drumsticks. The Shakespearean plotting is all muddled up and you don’t know who to root for of the miscreant characters. It could have done with 30 minutes loped of with one of those Samurai blades. The charismatic acting from the leads just about holds it together and the crazy action is fun. In fact I would have liked more of that action as this film is pitched as a comedy. As it is aimed at mostly illiterate rural China to get those big grosses it has to be simplified and so a lot of the lesser characters are village idiots. Its pretty dumb stuff.
I would ignore that Chinese gross and the critics as this film is not really aimed at Westerners. I bought it to see lots of big sprawling martial arts fights and that signature choreographed Hong Kong action sequences that make these films so much fun. But it was not to be and barely 30 minutes of kung fu fighting action. I did like the horse trains though, train carriages pulled on rails by horses, which is completely ridiculous, of course. You could give it ago but there is along list I have seen of much better out there, starting with Kung Fu Hustle.
Imdb.com – 7.3/10.0 (6.836votes)
Rottentomatos.com –72 % critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 66% critic’s approval
As you would expect with 30 drafts there are a lot of them.
-Behind the Scenes-
It’s in Cantonese, very long and so worth a miss.
Again it’s in Chinese and one to miss.
It would not have made much difference.
Minneapolis Tribune –‘After watching it, I was as confused -- and giddy -- as if I had been rolled down a hill in a rain barrel. For unmitigated insanity, this is a hard film to beat’.
Variety –‘A rollicking, violent, Western-cum-comedy that serves many masters, but adds up to an entertaining hot pot of wry political commentary and general mischief.
Newark Ledger –‘See it now, uncut and in widescreen, before it disappears - and then reappears, years later, referenced in some Quentin Tarantino picture’.
The Mail –‘The stylish direction of Wen Jiang helps to overcome some flaws in his convoluted screenplay’.
LA Times –‘Not exactly a western, barely an action film and hardly a historical drama, the Chinese saga "Let the Bullets Fly" promises genre pleasures it routinely leaves un-triggered in its chamber.
Observer –‘It's satire of sorts, but broad, confused, extremely talkative and interminable’.
Wall Street Journal –‘"Let the Bullets Fly" has a clearly defined moral dimension, but Mr. Jiang, an absurdist at heart, never lets it interfere with the fun’.
Daily Telegraph –‘Overwritten script, ugly visuals, queasy rape humour, feeble special effects and all-round incoherence’.
Let me start by explaining the cinema situation in Norwich as it was for many years. There were two mainstream cinemas run by the Odeon and the ABC that had a total of 8 screens for the city and most of them weren't huge by a long shot, they also didn;t have the kick ass sound system. The Odeon got Dolby Digital for The Phantom Menace but to be honest it wasn't that great in an old theatre. then the UCI came along with a brand new 14 screen multiplex offering a bar, ice-cream parlour, a gallery for luxury viewing, a better and more diverse selection of films and free parking. It sost a bit more but was worth it for a better experience. Then in 2000 Ster Century opened a multiplex in the Castle Mall boasting 8 screens and the latest Dolby Digital EX sound system which has a en extras middle rear suond channel. I never really went because they seemed to be offering the same as the UCI and why change. Their showing times were a bit too early as well for later showings when 8-8.30 is an ideal weekend viewing time. But both of these newer cinemas caused the Odeon and ABC to close their doors. A local chain Hollywood has now opened in the Odeon's place with decent ticket prices but not the best presentation. In the last few weeks something has happened. UCI have bumped ticket prices up to £5.80 for a peak time showing and it's more difficult to park. Ster Century have obviously seen an opportunity and have lowered theit ticket prices to £3.50 across the board. this makes them the cheapest in town for mainstream films. With this is mind me and a bunch of friends went to see The Mummy Returns in a theatre with Dolby Digital EX. The theatres are clean and quite modern. The seating is incredibly comfortable and there's even a drinks holder in the seat. The EX sound presentation is only in the two largest screens which seat 324/331 respectively. Buying the tickets was easy, there's a screen showing the times and if t
hey are sold out or have limited seating. No problems on either front. They even ask you where you would like to sit. Yep you get assigned a seat number. Now personally I prefer to choose where to sit whenever I get in the theatre, first come, first served as it were but it's no big deal. The ushers even show you to your seats. As for the presentation, well there are a few too many adverts but once the film get's going it's clean and the sound is excellent. yesterday I saw Pearl Harbor in the same screen and the sound was awesome (unlike the film) The refreshments are reasonably priced for cinema with the drinks coming in at around a £1.50 average. You can even park your car in thr Mall car park and get 3 1/2 hours free parking. I don't know if the £3.50 price will be ongoing or is just a promotion but it's been reported that the cinema has seen a big upturn in custom as a result. Certainly it's just as good as the UCI and cheaper. I see myself seenig all the summer blockbusters at Ster as a result.
In terms of multiplexes, Ster Century at Castle Mall are the new(er) boys in town (the town in question being Norwich, of course). The UCI at Riverside had been open a good few months before they came along, and for a while it always feels like they were playing catch-up, even though UCI are by no means perfect. An early visit to Ster seemed to confirm that (the story is still below for those who like a chuckle) but I felt I had to amend this review in light of the fact that things are in fact much better than that :) Ster Century now wins over UCI in my book for several reasons. Their prices are still a flat £3.50, whereas UCI's have crept up towards £5 for non-students. The cinema is in the shopping centre in the middle of the city, and therefore more walk-able from my house; it's also not (as much) in the midst of tottering semi-clad clubby-barry girlies and swaggering ben-sherman-clad lads when you come out of a later showing. And there's now a Ben and Jerry's counter in there, which frankly removes the last reason (apart from the very occasional more convenient showing time) to go down to UCI. Parking is free for both (get your multi-storey ticket validated by the cashier), but more buses serve the centre of town than the Riverside development. Furthermore, the seats are more comfy at Ster than UCI, the staff aren't called "cast members" and don't have to do a cheesy intro to the film, and the sound is marginally less ear-popping. Food and drink is the same old same old you get at every multiplex, overpriced and over-additived, barring Ben and Jerry's of course (although that's still overpriced at £1.25 a scoop). Seats are still allocated on your tickets, but the staff seem more with-it these days, and the system works well. It just goes to show that you should give places a second chance! Don't get me wrong, UCI is okay, but Ster wins out in the numerous ways above. --The origin
al tale of woe is below-- First up is trying to find out when the film's on. Having recycled the free local paper, our only immediate source of cinema information is my weekly email from UCI, which I signed up for on their neat website. I would get one from Ster Century, but they don't offer one. In fact, their website is as useful as a lead-filled lifebelt to anyone who might have the audacity to want to find out information on the films they show, and the availability of information is the primary reason why we've always gone to UCI. So, the advantage is with UCI at this point. However, the whole thing undergoes a dramatic reversal when I phone to book tickets (we don't usually, but we're seeing Castaway on its second day, at peak time, and figure it's advisable). I'm told bluntly by a UCI operator that they don't do student tickets over the phone, so instead of just under £4 it will be over £6 each. I politely decline (I believe the exact phrase was, "you must be joking, no thanks. Bye!"). Now we have a choice: go down to UCI early and hope, or try Ster Century. We vote to try the latter - it is after all only half the distance from our house, in the centre of town and there may be a chance for last orders afterwards. A scrabble for the phone number later (the website having failed to yield one), I'm listening to a list of the current films read by someone who is (a) very bored, (b) suffering from a heavy cold, and (c) apparently standing in the middle of the shopping mall on a Saturday. Eventually, after pressing a few random numbers and waiting in a queue (at least they tell you what number you are), I get through to a reasonable approximation of a human being. He informs me that they do indeed do student tickets over the phone, for the same price as UCI, and books us reserved seats for our preferred showing. So far, so fine and dandy. Arriving at the cinema, there is a queue of b
ored, miserable people stretching halfway round the mall. Because all tickets have a seat reservation, buying them takes longer than usual. "Ha!" we exclaim, feeling superior as we troop up to the ticket collection point upstairs, "all those silly people should have booked in advance!" Unfortunately, we're met at the ticket machine by a small huddle of confused people and a legend on the screen: printer out of paper. "Maybe someone will come along in a minute," says one hopefully. I sigh, roll my eyes heavenwards, and decide to do something proactive - I head downstairs to find Someone In Charge. One look at the ever-lengthening queue and my mind is made up - it's straight to the cashier I go. After all, I'm reporting a fault, aren't I? The manageress turns up just as I'm explaining the problem, and immediately radios someone to fix it. I'm impressed. The other people in the queue are slightly less impressed when she then serves me (I've waited all of 20 seconds). I disappear back upstairs before they decide to re-enact Kett's Rebellion, and my friends and I head for the screen, bypassing the usual array of overpriced, additive-stuffed food. There's hardly anyone in (wow, I really did jump the queue), and we find our reserved seats with ease. Disappointingly, there are no adverts for local estate agents and wedding-dress shops on the screen (as at UCI), nor are there the Pictionary teasers to keep us amused. All there is is The Best Love Album In The World... Ever (Part 563b) - when Lady In Red comes on, we consider leaving, but there are only a few minutes until the film starts. Well, a few minutes turns into several, and as the auditorium fills up, it becomes clear that (a) the film is sold out, and (b) there's a problem. "Excuse me, those are our seats" becomes a familiar sound, as each new arrival seems to set up a chain reaction of displaced people. What
39;s gone wrong? Has the seat-allocating computer developed a glitch? Nope. It seems that the very-nice-but-ultimately-vacuous ushers at the door have decided to tell some people that they can sit where they like, and they don't have to use the allocated seats. So of course, those with relatively duff seats take prime seats... but those who've been allocated the prime seats want them back, and are angrily brandishing their tickets in the interlopers' faces. The manageress arrives, and tried to rectify the problem, but of course, when you get some people in the right seat, that displaces someone else, and getting them sorted displaces someone else... you get the picture. This goes on and on, and we begin to think that we are the only people in the place who are in the right seats. People are getting restless, making sarky comments, and the manageress is getting more and more stressed as she radios the projection room yet again to delay the start of the film. It's now 30 minutes after it was due to start. One couple, who were the most vociferous in demanding their rightful seats (which weren't actually that great), get up and walk out, claiming that they'll miss their restaurant table otherwise. They're waved off with jeers and a mocking spatter of applause. Another 10 minutes, and everyone is either in a seat they're happy with, or are presumably elsewhere composing a letter of complaint. We assume the hapless ushers are getting a dressing-down somewhere. At least the seats are comfortable and roomy (I'm thankful for small mercies at this point). The film starts - well, the trailers. Even 40 minutes late, they show 20 minutes of advertising, and we see our last orders drink fading fast. Well, I did enjoy the film (damn good job really), but the amount of messing about we had to endure to see it just didn't seem worth it. Maybe if you go when it's not busy, and don't see a popular film, you'
;ll get away without this kind of rigmarole, but that's hardly the point. Sorry, Ster, it's back to UCI for us.