My search for amazing Asian cinema pursues. This time I checked out 'Let the Bullets Fly.' Premiering at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, 'Let the Bullets Fly' has received quite a bit more hype domestically than most other films from China. During its 2010 theatrical run in China, it became their highest-grossing film of all time – which I assume helped get it into Tribeca. It lost that title and became the second-highest-grossing film in China shortly thereafter.
With a title like 'Let the Bullets Fly' and starring Chow Yun-Fat, one could very easily assume that it's a high-action thriller filled with martial arts and shootouts – but one would be wrong. In reality, the film is a cowboy western comedy. Set in 1919, the style isn't all that far off from Korea's 'The Good, The Bad and The Weird' - but the tone couldn't be any farther from it. 'Good, Bad, Weird' feels like a Korean version of something Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost could make to follow-up 'Hot Fuzz,' but 'Let the Bullets Fly' carries a wacky tongue-in-cheek feel. It's silly.
The cunning and crooked governor Ma Tang (Ge You) and his wife are traveling through a mountain pass in their comfy train when they're overtaken by a notorious gang of bandits. The bandit leader, Pocky Zhang (writer/director/star Jiang Wen), captures the governor, assumes the role as a touring governor, and forces Tang to act like his counselor. "Tang" must translate into "soup" because Pocky and his gang refer to him more often as "soup" than "Tang," which alludes to the type of comedy that you're getting with 'Let the Bullets Fly.' Tang takes Pocky and his accomplices to a city controlled by villainous opium supplier Master Huang (Yun-Fat). Tang's goal is to teach Pocky a lesson by inception – placing the idea Pocky's mind that he should go head-to-head against his evil opposite. You see, Pocky isn't a bad man. Yes, he's the leader of a legendary team of bandits – but they are the Robin Hood type, always stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In this case, he wants to steal from the oppressing crime lord and give back to those under his rule.
Pocky and his bandits, who are all known solely by their ranking numbers within the gang, are the reason to watch 'Let the Bullets Fly.' They're absolutely hilarious. They may be the best bandits out there, but they're also a bunch of goofball idiots. When the gang enters Huang's city, Goose Town, Huang tries scaring them out by explaining the threat of Pocky and his bandits, not knowing that he's meeting with the real Pocky. When they don't seem phased by Huang's warnings, Huang has his henchmen dress up in bandit's garb and attack the governor's mansion. The entire film is devoted to this cat and mouse chase of unknown identities and intentions. While I admit that it has the ability to be exceptionally fun at times, 'Let the Bullets Fly' is stretched much too far. The 132-minute runtime is way too long for a comedy. 30 minutes could have been and should have been trimmed.
If you like cartoonish and wacky Asian action comedies that resemble live-action Anime, then you're going to love 'Let the Bullets Fly.' For me, the witty story and great characters lose some of their entertainment value due to runtime and the overly quirky tone. Had it not been for those two distractions, 'Let the Bullets Fly' would join the ranks of some of my favorite Asian films. As is, it's just okay.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA has placed 'Let the Bullets Fly' on a Region A BD-25 in a standard two-disc keepcase. The second disc included is a DVD copy of the film. The case itself slides vertically into a matted keepcase with embossed lettering and images. Prior to getting to the main menu, there's a slew content that you can only fast-forward through – not skip – including an FBI warning, a Well Go USA vanity reel and trailers for 'Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale,' 'The War of the Arrows' (which I highly recommend checking out), 'The Front Line' and 'Blade of Kings.'
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded presentation of 'Let the Bullets Fly' would be exemplary had it not been mostly for compression flaws.
The sharpness and high amount of detail is impeccable. In bright and sunny mid-day shots with harsh lighting, you'll not only see the individual pores on faces and threads on the bandits' cloth masks, but you'll see every speck of dust and gnat hovering in the frame. Black levels are strong and consistent, as is shadow delineation. Colorization is brilliant with popping primaries amidst this earthy western palette. The print used for the transfer is fantastic, but features one scene around the 36 minute mark that's peppered with tiny white specks of dirt or grime.
The compression flaws that drag the video quality down are noise and banding. There aren't many fade-ins or -outs, but any time there are, you'll notice bands. A handful or two of noisy scenes appear throughout the film, but they aren't too common and don't last long. Aliasing and artifacts aren't an issue and edge enhancement and DNR are not applied.
While an English translation is featured in a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, it's the lossless Mandarin one that I recommend.
From the opening sequence it's obvious that the team who mixed the audio put a lot of love into it. It's consistently dynamic and layered. The train robbery that opens the film places you in the crossfire of a shootout. From horses, boxcars and – of course – flying bullets, imaging is almost constant. Just as you couldn't ask more from the effects mix, the same goes for the music. Although the score isn't always as fitting with the on-screen content as it should be, it sounds fantastic.
The only problem that lies within the mix is a slight syncing problem that arises from time to time. It never lasts for more than a split second, making me believe that it's more of an ADR issue than a Blu-ray one, but it's still worth mentioning.
If the idea of an Asian farce with a western flare sounds appealing to you, then you're going to love 'Let the Bullets Fly.' For me, I understood what it was trying to do, but I can't put it above the several other films in the last ten years that have done the same thing better. It's witty, fun, and intelligent, but the length and the zaniness bring it down – which is a real shame considering how well-directed the film is. Slight problems exist within both the audio and video qualities, but they're still very strong. The lack of special features is a real travesty though. You would think that the second-highest-grossing film of all time in a China – a Chinese movie, nonetheless – would be given a little extra care, but a trio of teasers and trailers is all that appears on the Blu-ray.