A bunch of well drilled bandits lead by Pocky Zhang (Jiang Wen) hold up a train carrying Bangde Ma (Ge You) and his wife (Carina Lau). Bangde has bribed his way into becoming the governor of Goose Town, where he intends to hook up with the rich and exploit the poor in order to become rich himself. Zhang decides to take over the position and keep Bangde as his aide, when they arrive in town it soon becomes clear local gangster Huang (Chow Yun Fat) really runs the show. So begins a titanic battle of wits between Zhang and Huang.
Immensely entertaining and often very funny, Let the bullets fly is easily Jiang Wen's most accessible and commercial film to date. Sumptuous to look at, thanks to the fantastic production design and cinematography and superbly acted by all concerned, particularly Jiang Wen and the scene stealing Chow Yun Fat who has his best role in years as both Huang and his idiot double he uses as a decoy.
The best feature of the film is undoubtedly it's rich, densely packed screenplay, for many western viewers however, this may also be it's worst feature. The dialogue is delivered in such quick fire fashion that the subtitles zip by and you may have trouble keeping up. Added to this some of the humour is lost on a non Chinese audience as it doesn't all translate and requires a healthy knowledge of Chinese culture to fully appreciate. While many bullets are fired during the film, the banter between the characters is the real summation of the title, verbal bullets flying rather than actual bullets. All that said, enough of the humour does come through but such is it's richness I can't help but feel I'm missing out.
The only issues I have with the film are some atrocious CGI moments that are so bad they can only have been intentional, why this would be the case though I'm not sure! The film is also pretty long at 2hrs 12 mins and perhaps a little trimming could have made it a little tighter.
One of the most interesting things about Let the bullets fly are the political overtones that seem to have been missed or perhaps ignored by the Chinese film censors, who are usually so renowned for being strict on any kind of political commentary that paints the Chinese government in anything less than perfect light.
Let the bullets fly may not be the movie you were expecting, the impression I had of it from it's promotion was of a comedy action western, and with that title and Chow Yun Fat starring I was hoping for an element of heroic bloodshed, this is not the case however. Don't let that put you off though as it's an excellent film, with much to offer the attentive viewer. So successful was the film that a sequel has already been given the green light, proof that intelligent and entertaining movies can still be commercial movies!