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July 05, 2011

Bullets over Summer

bullets over summer 1.jpg

Baau lit ying ging
Wilson Yip - 1999
Mei Ah Region 0 DVD

Well, yes, it seems most appropriate to see any movie titled Bullets over Summer at this time of year. But as it turns out, the film isn't as action packed as the English title might suggest. I'm not sure what the Chinese title means, although an attempt with translation of the individual words from Pinyin to English suggests something along the lines of "Carefully looking for the right person while eating pork buns". A good part of the film is devoted to the two main characters, undercover cops, and their surveillance of a suspected gun dealer.

The basic setup of Wilson Yip's film is the Hong Kong version of that Seventies Hollywood staple, the buddy film. Louis Koo and Francis Ng are close in spirit to James Caan and Alan Arkin in Freebie and the Bean in that both have tensions between each other, but share something of the same antipathy towards parts of the police force they are part of, and a sense of unity when actually fighting crime. Francis Ng's Mike is the more diligent of the pair, seeming to function like a mechanism too tightly wound. Louis Koo's Brian is the laid back womanizer, informing Mike with his flat drawl that he's rather finish his ice cream before checking on a holdup in progress.

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Looking to keep tabs on a gun dealer, which will in turn lead to the capture of a criminal gang, Brian and Mike seek an apartment from which to view their suspect. The two convince the proverbial little old lady, referred to as Granny, to let them stay in her run down apartment, primarily near the balcony, for a couple of weeks. Granny is both high strung and a bit addled, as she seemingly confuses Mike and Brian with her own children, yet the three become a kind of impromptu family. The family is extended with the inclusion of the sister of a snitch, and the pregnant woman who runs a neighborhood laundry service. The criminal investigation is resolved by coincidence rather than detection, but that doesn't seem to be Yip's main concern.

As one of the screenwriters, Matthew Chow explains: "The miraculous point of Bullets over Summer is that most of the time, we would set a target and a theme before we write a script, but this time we didn't. When the movie was finished, someone commented the characters are so lonely, they are all being abandoned. I then realized that Helena (Law Lan) was abandoned, same for Michelle (Saram), she had to sleep on the street; and Francis Ng's character was an orphan, the pregnant woman was also abandoned by her husband, even the story was being ignored. It seemed to reveal that I need to be cherished therefore in my imaginative world; the characters are all being discarded and ignored. Additionally, Wilson treasures family very much, he introduced a new perspective towards family into the movie."

It is Law Lan who was cited for her performance as Granny. How many movies has Miss Law actually made? Obviously, more scholarship is required, but the fact that Miss Law is still active speaks for the greater appreciation within the Chinese language film industries for some of its oldest actors.

When Bullets over Summer returns to action film mode, it is a jolting moment. It's as if for almost an hour we've been lulled by the comedy and drama of this mismatched family, only to watch Brian and Mike bring out the guns. Characters chase each other through stairways and dark alleys in a hot and humid night. The only misstep in the film is giving Mike an incurable disease which allows him to do the wrong thing as a policeman, even if his motivation is admirable. Still, of the films I have seen by Wilson Yip, I prefer the modest virtues of Bullets over Summer to the antics of the popular, if overpraised, Ip Man.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 5, 2011 08:43 AM


I have a very soft spot for this film, so thanks for your review. Yip's Juliet in Love is also about lonely souls creating impromptu families - have you seen it?

Posted by: Helena at July 5, 2011 05:28 PM

Not only did I write about Juliet in Love, but you left a comment a little over a year ago.

I guess I'll have to find more Francis Ng movies to write about if this keeps up!

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at July 6, 2011 03:31 AM

Doh! I searched for a review on your site before asking my question but didn't come up with anything, otherwise I wouldn't have asked. Clearly my memory is playing tricks ... Oh, and I'd be delighted if you did find more Francis Ng movies (and Anthony Wong movies too.)

Posted by: Helena at July 6, 2011 06:07 PM