Gone with the Bullets
aka 一步之遙 aka Yi Bu Zhi Yao aka 隨子彈飛 aka One Step Away
Written by Jiang Wen, Wang Shuo, Guo Jun-Li, and Shu Ping
Directed by Jiang Wen
Jiang Wen’s followup to Let the Bullets Fly goes in a completely different direction, a period satire of the entertainment industry, a scandalous crime, and a China carved up by colonial forces. Basically they gave Jiang Wen a dump truck full of money and he made the most ridiculous razzle-dazzle he could craft that also spent a good portion of the film mocking the very razzle-dazzle it celebrated. Yet the whole thing is hard to engage with, not even bothering to spend time to keep the audience and just flies off in whatever direction it feels like as the story rumbles along. It is certainly a spectacle, but the whole thing just isn’t my cup of tea.
Jiang Wen is Ma Zouri, a local scam artist who is so good at self-promotion that a warlord’s son comes to him for advice in an effort to switch from new money to old money to impress foreign women. Ma Zouri and his partner in crime Xiang Feitian (Ge You) see this as the perfect opportunity to fleece this guy out of all his money while simultaneously putting on the biggest talent show for ladies of the night in the history of the world, which will put Shanghai on the map. The pageant for President of Escort Nation features women from across the globe and is a huge production with multiple numbers, but in the end Wanyan Yin (Shu Qi) emerges victorious. She’s a former flame of Ma Zouri as they were growing up together, and soon the pair are racing around town high on opium until Wanyan Yin is dead in a car accident and Ma Zouri is on the run, assumed to be her killer.
The scandal causes a sensation and soon a play of Ma Zouri murdering Wanyan Yin has become ridiculously popular, and Ma Zouri must decide on how to emerge from the shadows to clear his name. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a movie! The story is loosely based on a real life murder case from 1920 Shanghai, where courtesan Wang Lianying was murdered by Yan Ruisheng. As in the film, a stage production soon followed, which turned into one of China’s first films (some of the film’s initial investors were former friends of Yan Ruisheng, who added to the script!) Gone with the Bullets takes tidbits from this case and then spins its own web of satire that ensnares a lot of targets.
The scandal in life grew to become bigger than life, and here the targets are everywhere. The obvious homages to cinema from the elaborate stage productions to Ma Zouri becoming the subject of his own true life movie directed by Wu Six (Zhou Yun, Jiang Wen’s real life wife.) Wu Six must deal with her increasing feelings for Ma Zouri while filming his trial and murder reenactments, and her own place in society. As a daughter of a warlord (the same warlord whose son Ma Zouri cleaned out!), she’s constantly fighting with her father as he collects wives and mistresses (all of which he claims are for strategic reasons to help his family.) She knows Ma Zouri casually from both running in the same circles, but is usually wise to his tricks. Spending extended periods of time with him now lets her see tha tnot only is he innocent, but she also falls for him and is soon trying to break him out.
The newspapers, plays, and films form their own conclusions on Ma Zouri, pronouncing him guilty before he even knows a crime was committed, and all attempts to fight back just end up backfiring in more trouble and sticky situations. Ma Zouri is just a man trying to survive while forces outside of his control shape the world. Not just the interior forces of the media and police, but the entire government establishment is shaped by colonialism and a story Ma Zouri tells that shows how the Qing Dynasty was inadvertently brought down because of an action he did. The wheels of history and judgement move quickly, and if you aren’t careful you will get caught in the gears.
While Gone with the Bullets spectacle fails to impress me, it is still a completely huge film with a lot to say and weird ways of saying it. A film that is different, that tries to be more than just a follow up to an action movie. A film that tries is worth a hundred films that just lazily toss things at the screen, and we at TarsTarkas.NET salute those that put in the effort even if the result produces a film we don’t recommend.
Rated 5/10 (good times bubbles, happy hat, bridezilla in training, that’s not Kool-Aid!, fancy hats)
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