The Bullet Vanishes hits most of its marks
Starring Nicholas Tse and Lau Ching-Wan. In Mandarin and Cantonese, with English subtitles. Unrated.
The Bullet Vanishes is a strikingly beautiful detective thriller that’s not afraid to slow down long enough to let its pleasures sink in—even if its complications don’t make much sense when you get a chance to think about them.
Set in late-1920s China, this Hong Kong–made (but shot in Shanghai) movie boasts two charismatic stars working in tandem, for a Sherlock Holmes vibe. The expressive Lau Ching-Wan—who’s been this way in Mad Detective and elsewhere—plays Insp. Song, a bowler-hat-wearing snoop with a penchant for acting out crimes he’s investigating. Local cop Guo (ex-Vancouverite Nicholas Tse) is just as sharp, although half his age and twice as handsome.
They hook up to solve big trouble down at the creepy munitions plant run by Boss Ding (Liu Kai-Chi), a cigar-smoking caricature of a venal capitalist taken to the next level; he made one of his workers commit suicide in public, and now the other proletarians think her ghost is coming back to mysteriously bump off her killers.
Naturally, we get to see every spray and splatter when things go bad for the innocent and the guilty, along with the added treat of multiple autopsies. There is some relief from the gore, thanks to fortune teller Little Lark (the lovely Yang Mi), who falls for Guo. And Song has a surprisingly poetic détente with a convicted husband killer (Jiang Yiyan), who gives him added insights into the criminal mind. Amid the rattling Tommy guns and hazy opium dens, director Law Chi-Leung (Koma, Bug Me Not!) also has fun with silent-movie techniques, spaghetti Western tropes, and Boardwalk Empire–type art direction. It’s a mess at times, and the ending strives too hard for a twist, but this Bullet hits most of its marks.
Watch the trailer for The Bullet Vanishes.