Let’s start with a crackling good mystery. People are shot. Some in front of witnesses. Yet forensics can’t make a case of death by gunshot. Why? Because without a major piece of evidence – the bullet – the cause of death cannot be ascertained only assumed.
At a local munitions factory, a woman is accused of stealing a box of bullets. Is she fired? Are the authorities brought in to question her. Neither. She’s offered “The God’s Will Resolution.” Basically, she must play a one-round game of Russian Roulette. If she is innocent, God will spare her from blowing out her own brains and everyone would return to work. If she’s not innocent…well, the case would be opened and closed right then and there.
Let’s make it a period drama. Set it in the 1930’s. Lots of men in long overcoats, newsboys caps, or fedoras. Plenty of pistols and tommy guns. Big cars that look boxy and black.
We will need a couple of heroes for the film. One is a local cop who is known as being the fastest gun in the area. The other is a brilliant detective known for both his eccentricities and amazing investigative and deductive powers.
Add in a beautiful woman doctor of forensics as the Medical Examiner (M.E.). And a little exotica in the form of a mysterious fortune-teller. Spice it up with dance halls, opium dens, and houses of pleasure. Then set the whole story in Tiancheng Province in China. They call this film – The Bullet Vanishes.
If we were pitching the story to investors we might describe it as something along the lines of CSI meets Sherlock Holmes with a hint of Miller’s Crossing and Last Man Standing. Actually, TBV only resembles those films based on style and look rather than subject. I’ve used those films as examples only in a general sense of saying that the costumes and cars, the guns and gals, the science, and the period settings of those films are as good a way of describing The Bullet Vanishes as any other.
Another thing that must be mentioned is that TBV is up for the 2013 Hong Kong Film Awards which are the equivalent of our Oscars, in a number of categories: Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress along with Best Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Art Design, Sound Design, Costume Design, and Best original Film Score. So it can easily be said that this is a film that brings a lot to the discussion.
The stars are Lau Ching-Wan and Nicholas Tse. As the ‘Detective’, Lau Ching-wan (above and below) brings a bit of humor to the role of Inspector Song Donglu. He wears three-piece suits, long overcoats, and a hat that fits somewhere between a fedora and a Chaplin-esque bowler. He’s a master of forensics, criminal psychology, as well-being a guy who is willing to try out a noose around his own neck to see if escape is possible. Now there’s a guy willing to take some risks.
Nick Tse (above and below) is Captain Guo Zhui – a gunman extraordinaire. He is the fastest draw you’ve ever seen, and his aim is miraculous.
He’s the kind of guy that when he enters a space, the eyes of every woman in the room fall on him. He might be Hong Kong’s Johnny Depp, and Lau could be Hong Kong’s Jack Nicholson
There are three main female characters. Little Lark is the exotic fortune-teller, and she’s played by Minnie Yang (above), a rising mainland China star. Yumiko Cheng (below) plays the female coroner or ME.
The third female in the film is Fu Yuan, played by Jiang Yiyan (below). She’s already incarcerated for murdering her husband. She and Detective Song are often in discussions about how good people go bad and commit murder. She’s also the only other person in the whole film who can match Detective Song intellectually.
There’s some great action set pieces, and in between those we have the investigative process. There’s a crime lord who owns the gun factory, crooked cops, and plenty of atmosphere, and a hint of the supernatural. I mean are there really ‘phantom bullets’? Directed and co-written by Chi-Leung Law, the film is a rewarding experience. Some of the time, the script is a bit dense and hard to follow, and some say that the film has borrowed from the explosion scene in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes.
But if one tries, faults can be found in any film. The Bullet Vanishes does have more than the requisites of action, suspense, grit, and humor. It also has what we might call high production values with a wonderful and enormous amount of attention paid to details.
While I won’t go as far as calling the film spectacular; I will heartily recommend it, and my rating is three-point seven five. Check out the trailer with English narration and inter-texts below.