The Bullet Vanishes

 (China/Hong Kong, 2012)
108 minutes, DCP, in Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Law Chi-leung
Starring: Lau Ching-wan, Nicholas Tse, Liu Kai-chi

A mercilessly and sensationally gripping thriller that rightfully claimed 12 nominations at the Hong Kong film awards, THE BULLET VANISHES boasts the blaze of big-production showmanship, on par with Hollywood blockbusters, and the exuberance of a superbly written story, full of shivers and startling twists. The mid-1920s warlord era. One cold rainy night. A young female worker at a Tiancheng county (Northern China) munitions factory, owned by ruthless businessman “Boss” Ding (Liu Kai-chi), is accused of stealing a box of bullets. Not one to care about a fair trial, Ding forces her to a game of Russian Roulette, which she loses. Her death is just the beginning. Two weeks later, a series of unexplained murders start plaguing the factory: the victims appear to have been shot but no bullets are found at the crime scenes. Terrorized, the workers whisper about an otherworldly “curse of the phantom bullet”.

Inspector Song Dalu (Lau Ching-wan, at his world-weary, weathered-faced best), a distinguished, slightly eccentric master criminologist, is sent to investigate the mystery. But once in Tiancheng, he discovers the local police force headed by Jin (Wu Gang), who’s a few weeks away from retirement, is less than cooperative and actually in league with abrasive exploitative capitalist pig Ding. He soon establishes an unlikely partnership with gun-slinging Captain Guo Zhui (Nicholas Tse), a hotblooded young man with eyes as sharp as his wits and fingers quick on the draw. The duo learns from a fortune-teller, Little Skylark (Mini Yang), that the workers became convinced the factory was cursed after an ominous warning was smeared in blood on the walls. The phantom bullets continue to deal death like a cardsharp until Song accepts Ding’s challenge to solve the case in seven days.

Hong Kong writer-director Law Chi-leung has crafted a mystifyingly good whodunit, built on a rock-solid plot that puts sharply etched characters center stage, with a prevailing mood of wistfulness and self-doubt, sometimes shifting from crazed to calm but always light on more orthodox thriller elements. Lau, makes another terrific turn as a profoundly human, Chinese version of Sherlock Holmes. He builds a subtly muted screen chemistry with his younger co-star, without ever stooping to the stereotypical American-style buddy-buddy number. That’s where the biggest coup of BULLET is: in the all-around spot-on casting.

Part of Hong Kong Cinema Now & Beyond

Friday June 28, 1:30PM Walter Reade Theater Buy Tickets