The fun of Let The Bullets Fly comes directly out of the verbal and situational jump rope that everyone involved commits to. It’s formed with Shakespearean-style characters who both seem larger than life and able to lie.
After taking down a horse-drawn train coach, the infamous bandit Pocky Zhang (played coolly by writer/director Wen Jiang) finds out that he’s killed the Governor-to-be of a sleepy little hamlet called Goose Town and decides, what the hell, he’ll ride into town claiming to be the man he’s killed. Fortunately, a toady named Tang (Xiaogang Feng) and the poor dead man’s unaffected widow (Carina Lau) want to tag along to avoid being murdered on the side of the road.
When they ride into town, they’ll face off against the man who controls the city with a wealthy fist. Master Huang (played with pure genius by Chow Yun-Fat) gives them the proverbial finger by sending his hat to personally greet them, and the escalating game of egos gets started at a gallop.
The strength of the writing is in its thrust and parry dialogue. Huang and Zhang battle back and forth with politeness and scorn in equal measures. Of course, Zhang promises to capture the ruthless bandit that’s been hijacking Huang’s drug shipments, but this is before Huang realizes that Zhang is the ruthless bandit that’s been hijacking his drug shipments. The false identities and lies don’t stop with them either, and the dramatic irony gets as thick as spilled blood.
Even with Yun-Fat’s pure talent, Jiang is the real star here – creating a character who’s as nonchalantly badass as the title (which happens to be his personal motto).
It suffers slightly from being a bit too long. The cat and also-cat game stretches too thin, but the climax of it all is deeply satisfying. Huang and Zhang are both master tacticians (displayed first by Huang’s need to get a double of himself in order to give Chow Yun-Fat a completely different role to be amazing in). Watching them try to outsmart one another is a great thrill.
There are also some truly bad CGI elements that are the victim, most likely, of the budget. However, they’re certainly not enough to sink the positive vibes this movie puts off. Those bullet-proof vibes come from a tone that manages to be both silly and very, very smart.
Over all, Wen Jiang pulls off triple duty with a massive amount of style and testicular fortitude. He’s crafted a character that’s amazingly cool, and the world of the movie that revolves around him benefits just by association. It’s warm intrigue done with its tongue in its cheek and gold caps on its teeth.
The Upside: Great performances, winding writing that’s funny and deadly, and a premise that’s refreshingly simple.
The Downside: Lacking CGI and a bit too many minutes in the runtime.
On the Side: This is the fifth film Jiang has directed. He contributed a segment to New York, I Love You, and hopefully he’ll continue to make even more.