BIG BULLET (1996) review

Bill Chu (Lau Ching Wan), a dedicated but headstrong Hong Kong cop, is demoted to the Emergency Unit for having punched his incompetent commanding officer during a police raid gone awry. There, he butts heads with by-the-book cop Jeff Chiu (Jordan Chan), and keeps trying to stop a gang of international criminals headed by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Yu Rongguang. There’s nothing new in this plotline, but there’s Benny Chan behind the camera, a superb cast in front, and a better-than-average script to tie it all in. Today Benny Chan is one of the top directors in Hong Kong and China, but in the middle of the nineties, having been revealed by the A Moment of Romance films, he was only starting to get to really shine, with main HK luminaries such as John Woo, Ringo Lam, Kirk Wong and Tsui Hark off to the United States. Although Big Bullet was a hit in Hong Kong at the time, it is strangely forgotten today, and never crossed over to the West as other HK action films have.

And it’s a shame, because Big Bullet is action cinema of the highest order: action scenes are shot with supreme clarity and unrelenting rhythm, a sense of fun but a commitment perhaps not to realism, but at least to plausibility. But more importantly, they’re highly dramatic, because we have been made to care about the protagonists by a script that is more clever than the average Hong Kong film of that time. The characters are surprisingly fleshed-out, with attention given not only to their particular set of skills (one is a sharp-shooter, another is a computer geek, another is wise…), but also to their respective backgrounds and motivations, and a real tenderness in the depiction of their budding team-spirit.

The criminals are more one-dimensional, but they’re played by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Yu Rongguang, both strong actors who know how to look mean and stylish. Speaking of which, the cast is uniformly excellent, headed by the magnificent Lau Ching Wan, who turns in a immensely likeable and occasionally subtle performance; Jordan Chan makes for a perfect foil as the buttoned-up cop with family issues, and the interaction between the two is a real pleasure, as the actors subtly convey a growing respect and friendship. Also, Theresa Lee is really funny and cute as the spunky-yet-naïve female member of the police squad. And in the end, for all the hard-hitting action and friction between characters, Big Bullet is a pretty light-hearted film that is often really funny without resorting to slapstick or crudeness.

Long Story Short : With its tight script, fleshed-out characters played by a uniformly excellent cast, and Benny Chan’s brand of superbly-shot action, Big Bullet is a hidden gem of nineties’ Hong Kong cinema. ****  

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