Let the Bullets Fly
|Let the Bullets Fly|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jiang Wen|
|Screenplay by||Jiang Wen|
|Story by||Ma Shitu|
|Distributed by||Emperor Motion Pictures|
|Box office||US$117.5 million (China)
US$140 million (worldwide)
Let the Bullets Fly (simplified Chinese: 让子弹飞; traditional Chinese: 讓子彈飛; pinyin: Ràng Zǐ Dàn Fēi; Jyutping: Joeng6 Zi2 Daan6 Fei1) is a 2010 action comedy film written and directed by Jiang Wen, based on a story by Ma Shitu (马识途), a famous Sichuanese writer. The film is set in Sichuan during the 1920s when the bandit Zhang (Jiang Wen) descends upon a town posing as its new governor. The film also stars Chow Yun-fat, Ge You, Carina Lau, Chen Kun and Zhou Yun.
The film's script went through over thirty drafts before Jiang Wen was happy with it. Let the Bullets Fly was originally to be released in September 2010 but was pushed back to December. Made in Mandarin and Sichuanese, the film broke several box office records in China, and has received critical acclaim, when it was released. Let the Bullets Fly grossed 674 million yuan (US$110 million) in Chinese box office (becoming the highest grossing domestic film in China until it was beaten by Painted Skin: The Resurrection in 2012) and $140 million worldwide.
Set in China during the warring 1920s, "Poxy" Zhang (张麻子; Jiang Wen) leads a group of bandits (each of whom is numbered rather than named) and ambushes a government horse train carrying Ma Bangde (马邦德; Ge You), who is on his way to Goose Town (鹅城 E-cheng) to assume the position of county governor. Ma's train is derailed, killing both his bodyguards and his adviser, Counsellor Tang (汤师爷 Tang-shiye; Feng Xiaogang). Ma has no money, having spent it all to bribe and buy his position. To avoid being killed by Zhang's bandits, he lies to them claiming that he is actually Counsellor Tang and that his wife (Carina Lau) was the dead governor's wife. He tells the bandits that, if they spare him and his wife, he will help Zhang to impersonate Ma and pilfer Goose Town's finances.
At Goose Town, Zhang's appointment is opposed by local mobster boss Master Huang (黄老爷 Huang-laoye; Chow Yun Fat), who lives in a fortified citadel. Huang greets the governor's party by sending his best hat in a palanquin instead of himself. Ma tells Zhang that previous governors would split with Huang the majority of taxes levied from the town residents. However, Zhang is not interested in taking money from the poor.
Champion Wu (武举人 Wu-juren; Jiang Wu), one of Huang's subordinates, severely injures a citizen, and as governor Zhang rules against Wu in the town court. In retaliation, Huang frames Zhang's godson, Six (老六 Lao-liu), for theft. Six kills himself to prove his innocence. Zhang vows to destroy Huang, but Ma advises him to use cunning rather than brute force. Huang invites Zhang to a meal at his citadel, and there Huang pretends to have his subordinates killed as a sign of good faith. Not realizing the governor is actually the bandit chief, Huang raises a plan to hunt down and kill Zhang Mazi. Zhang pretends to agree to this plan, so long as Huang finances the expedition.
That night, Huang disguises his subordinates as Mazi's bandits and sends them to assassinate Zhang while he is asleep. However, only Ma's wife is killed. In grief, Ma reveals his true identity as governor to Zhang. During the funeral for Ma's wife, Zhang has his bandits kidnap Huang and the heads of Goose Town's two leading families for ransom. They quickly discover they have captured Huang's look-alike. The town raises the ransom money but Zhang refuses to take it, instead returning it to the townsfolk. As they do so, Flora (花姐 Huajie), a young prostitute in Huang's custody, discovers their identity. She is captured by Zhang's gang but becomes friendly with Two (老二 Lao-er) and Three (老三 Lao-san) and later stays on as a bandit member, helping them to guard Huang's look-alike. Huang sends his own subordinates, also disguised as bandits, to retrieve the money handed back to the town. A woman comes to find Ma, saying that he seduced her while in Shanxi and he is the father of her son. As compensation, Ma gives them two jewels that Huang had given Zhang.
Huang devises a new plan to kill Zhang (still unaware that he is not the true governor) by sending out his subordinates to pose as masked bandits. This plan fails and his men are killed in a shoot-out. Huang has no choice but to supply the money for Zhang's "anti-bandit" expedition. In the meantime, Huang's steward obtains a portrait of the real Governor Ma. The real Ma tells Huang that Zhang is his nephew and allowed to play governor because he saved Ma from bandits. During the expedition, Huang employs a fake Zhang Mazi to kill Zhang during the hunt, doubling his chances by sending his men to plant a landmine. Three days later, during the battle with Huang's fake bandits, Two is killed. After the fake Zhang Mazi is captured, he offers up two jewels as a way to avoid death. It transpires he killed the woman and Ma's son after Ma gave them the jewels. A distraught Ma tries to leave for Shanxi, but is killed upon driving his carriage over the landmine.
Zhang vows revenge and returns to Goose Town for a showdown with Huang. He scatters money to the townsfolk and Huang gathers it up the next day; then Zhang scatters firearms to the townsfolk and prevents Huang from gathering them. Zhang and his bandits put on a show of attacking the citadel, then publicly beheads Huang's look-alike to convince the townsfolk that Huang is dead and the one in the citadel is the look-alike. The townsfolk are reassured and storm the citadel with their new weapons. Zhang gives Huang a gun with one bullet left for his own suicide. However, a moment later, Huang stands on top of his own citadel and fires the gun into the air to get Zhang's attention. He throws a hat better than the one he originally sent to greet Zhang off the roof, as he promised. He then walks back into the citadel, killing himself with his own landmine.
Three intends to marry Flora and the surviving bandits leave for Shanghai to lead a more peaceful life. They take the train through the mountains, Zhang riding after them.
Director Jiang Wen went over 30 drafts of the film's script. Jiang Wu stated he was offered the role in the film through a text message from his brother, director Jiang Wen. Wu said that his brother "never picked any talentless person for his productions. So it is good to be chosen for work in a good team."
Let the Bullets Fly was originally scheduled for a release in September 2010. The release date was postponed as a spokesperson for Emperor Motion Pictures stated that "There is a lot of post-production to be done and it has to be done properly." The film premiered in Beijing on December 6, 2010 with wide release in Mainland China on December 16. Let the Bullets Fly was released in Hong Kong on January 13, 2011. The film has become the highest grossing Chinese film, beating the record set by Aftershock. Following Avatar, this film is now the second highest-grossing film ever released in China.
Let the Bullets Fly had its American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011. The festival's co-founder, Martin Scorsese, had a private screening of the film in August 2010 during post-production when he was visiting Beijing with his family.
Let the Bullets Fly's opening midnight screenings have grossed at least one million yuan ($150,000), gaining the film a new midnight opening record for Chinese-language films. The film's opening day gross was $4.5 million (RMB30m), which did not break the opening day record set by Feng Xiaogang's Aftershock. By the weekend, the film's accumulated grossed reached $19.52 million (RMB130.18m) and it became the local film fastest to break the RMB100m mark. Let the Bullets Fly earned a total of 400 million yuan (60 million dollars) in its first 11 days of release.
In China, Let the Bullets Fly won acclaim for story and dialogue as well as attracting criticism for its violence. John Anderson of Variety describes the film as "an entertaining hot pot of wry political commentary and general mischief" and adds that "genre fans in particular will find much to revel in, with Jiang being a helmer of sharp commercial instincts and a sage satirical bent." Anderson further praised the film's visual style and composition, stating "While a generous portion of Let the Bullets Fly is dedicated to computerized chaos, explosions, and mayhem, the subtle is always in competition with the ostentatious." Anderson points out one lengthy scene involving a conversation between the three main characters "d.p. Zhao Fei's camera virtually floats around them, rotating, making mute commentary and suggesting the camerawork in Hou Hsiao Hsien's Flowers of Shanghai. Its captivating." Maggie Lee of The Hollywood Reporter described the film as "unabashedly entertaining" and though less tailored to film festivals than Jiang's other works, the bottom line is that it is a "rollicking Chinese western directed with cinematic gumption."
Film Business Asia gave the film an eight out of ten rating, calling it a "richly entertaining Oriental Western anchored by a well-honed, ironic script and terrific performances." Time Out Hong Kong called the acting "masterclass throughout" while noting that it may take a "native Chinese to fully appreciate." The Global Times gave the film a seven out of ten rating, praising it for "a nicely tense pace" and "a compact storyline featuring enough genuine laughs" while stating that Jiang Wen's role "quickly becomes excessive and over-the-top". The Beijing Review said the film had "a great deal more depth to it than the average Hong Kong shoot-'em-up" and that it was as "captivating to listen to as it is to watch". China Daily placed the film on their list of the best ten Chinese films of 2010. Twitch Film praised the film's tone and the script, stating "What is most refreshing about this tried and tested formula is Jiang's decision to play his film for laughs, and the script is littered with pitch-black humour throughout."
Awards and nominations
Let the Bullets Fly's awards and nominations included Best Film and Directing nominations from the Asian Film Awards and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Jiang also received the Best Director award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society.
|5th Asian Film Awards|
|Best Director||Jiang Wen||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Chow Yun-fat||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Carina Lau Kar-ling||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Jiang Wen||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||William Chang Suk-pin||Won|
|5th Asia Pacific Screen Awards|
|Best Feature Film||Nominated|
|Achievement in Directing||Jiang Wen||Nominated|
|2011 Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards|
|Best Director||Jiang Wen||Nominated|
|Best Leading Actor||Ge You||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Carina Lau||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Wei Xiao, Li Bukong, Zhu Sujin, Shu Ping, Jiang Wen, Guo Junli||Won|
|Best Cinematography||Zhao Fei||Won|
|Best Visual Effects||Eman Tse, Victor Wong||Nominated|
|Best Makeup & Costume Design||William Chang||Nominated|
|Best Sound Effects||Wen Bo, Wang Gang||Nominated|
|31st Hong Kong Film Awards|
|Best Film||Ma Ke, Albert Lee, Yin Homber, Barbie Tung, Zhao Haicheng||Nominated|
|Best Director||Jiang Wen||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Zhu Sujin, Shu Ping, Jiang Wen, Guo Junli, Wei Xiao, Li Bukong||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Jiang Wen||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Ge You||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Carina Lau||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Zhao Fei||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||Jiang Wen, Cao Wei Jie||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction||Eddy Wong, Yu Qing Hua & Gao Yi Guang||Nominated|
|Best Costume & Make Up Design||William Chang Suk Ping||Won|
|Best Action Choreography||Sit Chun Wai, Lee Chung Chi||Nominated|
|Best Sound Design||Wen Bo, Wang Gang||Nominated|
|Best Visual Effects||Victor Wong, Xie Yi Wen||Nominated|
|18th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award|
|Best Director||Jiang Wen||Won|
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