Monday, July 25, 2016

For a Few Bullets

I talk about the changes in how Chinese cinema is coming to North America a lot, enough that it's probably kind of boring, but I think it's kind of a big deal to note: Two years ago, the only way I was seeing a movie like For a Few Bullets was by coming to Fantasia and being surprised that it was playing. Last year, I was crossing my fingers that a goofy-looking Chinese comedy would hang around Boston an extra week so that I could see it when I got back, but the blockbuster adventures were still mostly crossing slowly, hoping to build buzz at places like Fantasia and NYAFF and maybe get picked up by a specialty distributor for VOD/DVD. Now, global releases are common enough that I'm having to find or create holes in my festival schedule to see all the Asian action/adventure that's playing Montreal this week.

It's kind of crazy.

At least it was relatively painless; I opted against À la recherche de l'Ultra-sex and found myself the only person in the theater at the old Forum for a 9:45pm show. I'm kind of curious how these movies do in MTL; I don't see it on the list of cities as regularly as I do Boston, and the Forum isn't quite so close to Montreal's small Chinatown as the Boston Common theater is. Do the Fantasia fans support these films year-round, or is the concentrated festial booking about as much as can be supported here?

Kuai Shou Qiang Shou Kuai Qiang Shou (For a Few Bullets)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2016 in Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas #13 (first-run, DCP)

When For a Few Bullets ends and the main titles come up, the first one displayed is "A Film by Peter Pan", and it's okay to chuckle. Pan Anzi could have maybe chosen a Western name that didn't have it's own built-in punchline, but it fits in this case. He's made the sort of big, swashbuckling action/adventure that someone who pledged to never grow up might make, full of frantic action and plot twists that could really use some dialing back.

It takes place in 1940, when Japan was consolidating its grip on Asia and were planning on installing a puppet government in Nanjing, headed by Chinese traitor Song Jingzhi (Vivian Dawson). He's assassinated by Li Ruo-yun (Zhang Jingchu), but that only slows things down. The Japanese have a plan to fund and legitimize their invasion by acquiring a treasure held by Russian warlord Kivenov (Andrey Karybin), so Li recruits con artist Xiao Zhuang (Kenny Lin Gengxin) to help steal it, although there is a gauntlet to be run across Manchuria to prevent it from falling into the hands of Japanese general Oda Koki (Kenneth) and "The Phantom", a larger-than-life concentration-camp executioner.

The ingredients for a pretty damn good pulp adventure are there, and a popular one - treasure-hunting stories are incredibly popular in China right now, and fusing it to a big "Machurian Western" along the lines of The Good, the Bad, the Weird covers a lot of freewheeling adventure bases. Pan (and a huge brace of consulting and collaborating writers) throws everything and the kitchen sink into it, and a new roller-coaster ride is always around the corner, with plenty of energy behind it. The production design people make just about every frame a joy to look at, with the desert a warm, almost inviting yellow and Li's elaborately detailed six-shooters going with everything from a western-inspired outfit to a severe uniform.

Full review on EFC.

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