The Bullet Vanishes
aka 消失的子彈 aka Xiao shi de zi dan aka Ghost Bullets
Written by Yeung Sin-Ling and Law Chi-Leung
Action Directed by Nicky Li Chung-Chi
Directed by Law Chi-Leung
Bodies begin appearing at an ammunitions factory that have been shot but with no apparent bullet. The mystery crimes draw the investigators into a web of corruption, murder, and betrayal. Thus, The Bullet Vanishes sets the tone, as a mystery/police procedural that has all the layers of government and business corruption that you’d find in an episode of The Wire.
Part of the fun of The Bullet Vanishes is just watching Inspector Song (Lau Ching-Wan, Black Mask) do his thing. Song is methodical and deductive, not afraid to put himself in danger in order to get to the truth. Song values the truth above all else, this integrity is why he’s appointed as an officer to weed out corruption.
Song immediately attaches himself to Captain Guo Zhui (Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Treasure Inn), who is Song’s new department’s best detective, in that he doesn’t let the rich and powerful get away with anything, either. Captain Guo is more brash, more likely to threaten and fight, but he’s also the fastest draw in town, so his threats are backed up with deeds. Guo’s also showing the ropes to his partner, the junior detective Xiaowu (Boran Jing Bo-Ran, The Guillotines), including advising Xiaowu to take some bribes so he doesn’t become a target.
Guo’s instincts and Song’s scientific approaches mesh well, helped by both of their obsessions with finding the answers. Much of their time is dealt with impatient factory owners, rude foremen, panicked workers, and their annoyed corrupt Chief, who is just trying to get to retirement with all his bribe money before these murders muck everything up.
Inspector Song is fascinated by crime and by the stories of those who commit them. He is introduced hanging himself in order to find the pattern of rope marks, which will prove the freedom of an inmate. It’s revealed he’s done hundreds of similar things while working at a prison, part of what catches the police department’s eye that he’d be good at investigating bribery. Song likes to tell stories of criminals and their antics, and is up on the latest scientific advances in police work. He’s friends with a scientist that he uses as a forensic doctor, Li Jia (played by the amazing Yumiko Cheng Hei-Yi (Treasure Inn)), and is quick to throw out talk of curses or ghosts. Song’s closest brush with romance is a connection with one of the women he caught (played by Jiang Yi-Yan), who planned and set up her murder for years and later confessed to Song’s suspicious because of the weight of his personality. The story of her crime is told via flashback that resembles silent cinema and is one of many neat sequences.
Guo is the one good cop character you see is so many films, the one that is always thrown off the case but somehow gets the job done. Surprisingly, throwing the character onto a team doesn’t diminish him, but enhances the role as Guo both is a mentor and also finally working with someone who can keep up with him. Guo’s contact on the street is Little Skylark Fang (Yang Mi, Painted Skin: The Resurrection), a fortune teller (and more) who learns lots of things through her clients. Little Skylark has done the street peddler role, but yearns for a married life with Guo. Guo is not the kind of character who will ever settle down, and explicitly states as such. He’s also made too many enemies at the top and the bottom to do anything else.
The story becomes one of those complicated mysteries where the killer is plural and betrayal and death are common. There are enough twists and suspects and murders that it’s hard to fit things together before the police do. While some of the police work is handwaving magic for how they’d figure things out, most of it follows a logical pattern that helps keep things grounded and still entertaining. The setting of Pre-War China allows for some great visuals and costumes without going too anachronistic. The major complaint is the explosions that happen during part of the finale, the whole sequence creating unnecessary Hollywood drama when a tense shootout would seem more fitting for the rest of the picture’s tone. I recognize that it’s a big Chekov’s gun to have an ammunitions factory and not have it blow up, but the escalation felt out of place.
Overall, The Bullet Vanishes blends the period technology with the procedural cleverly, the twist of the bullets is brilliant, and the mystery has enough layers to keep things interesting. Lau Ching-Wan, Nic Tse, and Yang Mi deliver amazing performances (who knew Nicholas Tse could be so good?), while Liu Kai-Chi’s Mr. Ding character chews up the scenery thanks to the obnoxious cigar he’s universally puffing away on. The Bullet Vanishes happens in a world where life is cheap and justice available only to those who can afford it, and our heroes end up battling on multiple fronts to find the killer and stop the panic.
Rated 8/10 (jail guard, fellow patient, flawed bullets, rival, jugglers, engineer, clue, tests)
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