With a title like Let the Bullets Fly and a star like Chow Yun-fat, it's not unreasonable to expect more than a few scattered, semi-memorable shoot-outs from Jiang Wen's zany period piece. Fortunately, comedy, intrigue, and shifting allegiances more than compensate for the dearth of rousing action in this 1920s-set film—the highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time—in which bandit "Pocky" Zhang (played by director Jiang) seeks revenge against Goose Town crime boss Master Huang (Chow) for the death of his son. That plot involves Pocky posing as the community's new governor and, with the help of his colorful criminal mates and an unreliable counselor (Ge You), swindling Huang and redistributing his riches to the poor. Decked out in designer suits and constantly bellowing with evil laughter, Chow makes a regal baddie, and Jiang's agile direction ably keeps pace with the cat-and-mouse story's vigorous, rat-a-tat dialogue. With Zhang driven by a desire to even the economic playing field, the film operates as an unsubtle but boisterous Robin Hood–style fable of socialist values—a political stance most strikingly conveyed by the sight of a true believer, wrongly accused of stealing and eating an extra bowl of jelly, then proving his innocence via self-disembowelment.
Chow's gangster takes aim.
Opens Fri., March 9 at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown. Not rated. 132 minutes.