The Bullet Vanishes: Film Review

The Bullet Vanishes Still - H 2012
© 2012 China Lion Film

The Bullet Vanishes Still - H 2012

This Chinese period thriller set in 1930's Shanghai boasts a fiendishly clever plot and gorgeous production elements.

The stylish Chinese thriller set in 1930s Shanghai centers on a series of murders in which the bullets seem to disappear after being used.

A stylish period thriller set in 1930’s Shanghai, The Bullet Vanishes is one of the more striking Chinese imports from the fledgling distribution company China Lion. This detective story about a series of murders in which the bullets seem to disappear after being used bears no small debt to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes flicks. But its clever plotting and beautifully designed production more than merit its trip to the West.

Said murders are being committed in, where else, a bullet factory, led by a venal boss and his vicious henchman who once forced a female worker suspected of stealing to play Russian roulette, with tragic results. Now her ghost may be exacting revenge, although cerebral-minded detective Song (Lau Ching-wan) and his partner Guo (Nicholas Tse) look for a less supernatural explanation in an investigation that includes such fascinating scientific experiments as the testing of ice bullets that melt after impact.

Viewers may ultimately become lost in the overly complicated labyrinth of a narrative, not to mention dialogue so fast and furious that one needs to be a speed reader merely to keep up with the subtitles. But director Lo Chi-leung also includes enough impeccably staged action set pieces and elaborate shootouts to entertain viewers who may have given up trying to follow everything that’s going on.

Providing some emotional heft to the proceedings is a social consciousness that is particularly evident in the character of Guo, who freely expresses his views about society’s poor treatment of the lower class.

The film’s visuals, from the gorgeous period costumes to the elaborate recreation of the city’s gritty environs, are consistently striking. And as the two detectives, Ching-wan and Tse, deliver the sort of slyly entertaining performances that make their characters memorable enough to warrant a sequel.  

Opens: Friday, Aug. 31 (China Lion)
Production: Unlimited Production Limited
Cast: Nicholas Tse, Lau Ching-wan, Yang Mi, Boran Jing, Liu Kai-chi, Wu Gang, Yumiko Cheng, Wang Ziyi
Director: Lo Chi-leung
Screenwriters: Lo Chi-leung, Yeung Sin-ling
Producers: Albert Lee, Zhang Zhao
Director of photography: Chan Chi-ying
Editors: Kong Chi-leung, Ron Chan
Production designer: Silver Cheung
Costume designer: Stanley Cheung
Music: Teddy Robin, Tomy Wai
No rating, 103 min.