‘Let the Bullets Fly’ is a unique take on classic themes

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

While “Let the Bullets Fly” sells itself in trailers as a high-octane over the top action film, in reality it is a well written and beautifully shot thriller. “Bullets”, set in 1920s China, blends classic Wild West genre themes and imagery with the outlandish action and sensibilities of Chinese cinema. The result is a memorable film that is likely to confuse and delight audiences in equal measure.

“Bullets” follows the journey of infamous bandit “Pock-faced” Zhang (Jiang Wen) as he decides to claim the governorship of a local town with the help of his most recent victim Ma Dingbang (Ge You). Zhang quickly realizes governorship is not what he expected and must face off against crime lord Huang Silong (Chow Yun-fat) in a battle for not only ownership of the town, but also the welfare of its people.

While the characters’ complex and nuanced dialogue may leave some viewers baffled, it results in incredibly sophisticated and deep characters. All three lead characters are hardly sympathetic, but Jiang, Ge and, Chow give quite compelling performances. Chow in particular is the embodiment of the classic Wild West archetype of the dangerous and charismatic crime lord.

What is perhaps most immediately striking about “Bullets” is its cinematography. Effective use of camera cuts helps maintain the pace of the film brilliantly and help jazz up many scenes of dialogue that would quickly grow stale without it. The visuals in the film, while at times over the top and cheesy, are absolutely stunning.

Action scenes, while relatively scarce, are choreographed with all the skill and polish western audiences have come to expect of Chinese cinema.

What truly makes “Bullets” stand out is its complex and twisting plot. Political intrigue is layered on, with deception, double agents, and questionable motives all combining to create a remarkably complex film.

There are clear homage’s to both classic Wild West cinema (the film opens with a carriage robbery) and the works of Akira Kurosawa which many iconic Wild West films were based on.

“Bullets” follows in the footsteps of such films as “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo”, all three films following the story of a man of questionable morality who arrives in a town to do battle with a merciless authority figure.

In many ways, “Bullets” is a retelling of the classic Robin Hood story (referenced several times throughout the film) albeit rife with modern political commentary. Specifically, it examines class struggles and revolution through a somewhat cynical lens.

While perhaps being a bit too unusual or complex for some viewers, “Let the Bullets Fly” is a truly unique take on the classic themes of the Wild West genre and is a must-see for fans of Wild West movies, Chinese cinema, or just well crafted intrigue.