Big Bullet (1996)

Produced & directed by: Benny Chan
Wrtitten by: Benny Chan, Susan Chan & Joe Ma
Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Jordan Chan, Teresa Lee, Francis Ng, Yu Rong Kwong & Anthony Wong

Buy the DVD at:

Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1997:
Best Film Editing (Peter Cheung & Cheung Ka-Fai)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1997:
Best Movie
Best Director (Benny Chan)
Best Actor (Lau Ching Wan)
Best Supporting Actor (Jordan Chan)
Best Supporting Actress (Teresa Lee)
Best Action Choreography (Ma Yuk-Sing)
Best Cinematography (Arthur Wong)
Best Original Film Score (Peter Kam)

A simple and thin plot? Yes, please. Some quite exciting and intensive action set pieces? Always a plus! Lau Ching Wan as a tough cop? Rarely goes wrong! Good first half but worse second half of the movie? I'd rather not. The latter is a fact for this 90s actioner though.

Hard boiled cop Bill Zhu (Lau Ching Wan - Victim) gets transferred to the Emergency Unit in the Hong Kong police after an incident with his superior during a previous case. Bill rarely does things according to the book and that attitude creates conflicts within his new group. Meanwhile time is running short to catch a ruthless gang of thieves who plan to smuggle a huge amount of money out of Hong Kong...

Director Benny Chan's most famous film before and still today remains A Moment Of Romance but after that one things got kind of quiet around him until Big Bullet came along. This movie opened a lot of doors and he landed a co-directing job on the Jackie Chan vehicle Who Am I? Jackie also produced the entertaining Gen-X Cops which Benny directed alone. He didn't show signs of the effective storyteller from A Moment Of Romance on Gen-X Cops but in the end made quite a fun and entertaining film for the masses.

Big Bullet starts out a little talky but soon opens up and becomes great Hong Kong action entertainment, even though we initially have a more serious tone underneath it all. It's not a movie with much depth in the content or within the characters but who says we need that kind of film every time action is involved? To be honest, I expected a lot more flashy directing in terms of camera movement but Benny holds back quite a lot and concentrates more on telling this simple story, a fact that a viewer like me really appreciates. It's not sophisticated storytelling but Benny has good flow in his directing and introduces our main characters nicely without disrupting the need to thrive forward.

A bit into the film, Anthony Wong and his henchmen makes their entrance at a restaurant and this is the set up for the absolute best action set piece in the film. After Anthony brutally murders a woman we're into a high octane gun battle that even goes out on the streets of Hong Kong where Lau Ching Wan and crew are doing their best to stop the bad guys. The action choreography doesn't feel like the work of John Woo in the execution but definitely in scale. Cars blow up, there's bloodshed and the thieves surround themselves with some heavy duty weapons.

Composer Peter Kam (Purple Storm) builds up terrific tension before the action bits but at other times the music feels a bit slick and hip for the movie's own good. For the remainder, Peter's music takes a step back which is good at times when you don't want music to dominate the main intention of a scene. The same can be said for the cinematography by Arthur Wong. He uses colours like blue to enhance certain scenes and settings but now when I look back I feel that his strongest work also occurs during the above mentioned action scene. This leads us into the main problem with Big Bullet. The tone changes and the action scenes gets slightly worse as the movie goes by.

The technical aspects remain fine but the tone changes into a very light and almost humerous one. For example, there is quite a big amount of brutal violence during the first half of the film but the meaning and the consequences of this are barely touched upon subsequently, something that should've been done considering that it was a serious movie once. The filmmakers had a good thing going with the darker tone so I found it strange that they almost abandoned it. The comedy within Lau Ching Wan's police unit (mainly from Cheung Tat Ming) is at non-intrusive but the closer we get to the end the more tiring and frankly silly it gets. All this could've been forgiven or even forgotten if Benny and his action choreographer would've blown us away in the final reel. Sadly all ideas seemed to have run out by the time the two fights on the moving plane begins. The ingredients for a bloody good action climax was there but the editing and camera work is so all over the place so you can barely follow the action. Disappointing.

A solid group of actors occupy the movie and in the starring role we see the always charismatic Lau Ching Wan. He elevates this movie through his screen presence and charisma and turns what could've been a very cliché ridden part into a very solid performance. In other actor's hands it could've been boring but Lau Ching Wan is an actor you want to watch even if it in the end turns out to be lesser than good. Lau has after Big Bullet played a cop more than once but never really the same part so to speak. He has also shown a terrific comedic side through his role in La Brassiere.

Jordan Chan is the best of the bunch here though and beforehand I'd kind of put him in the bad actor's pile after seeing him in thrash like Skyline Cruisers and Bio Zombie. In the latter he did however show strength in the action moments but fell totally flat in the comedic scenes. His face just isn't suitable for comedy in my opinion. He got a well deserved nomination for his performance in Big Bullet and from his first scene he embodies everything the character of Jeff is. He's disciplined and a by the books cop, which creates the contrast and the conflict with Lau Ching Wan's character. Despite the age difference, Jordan's character is never someone we look down upon and that also goes for Jordan's performance itself. He also brings an inner humanity to the role and we see that especially when he encounter his brother who's a triad. That side story is actually well done and Benny avoids the sentimental side to it. This is by far the best I've seen Jordan Chan do in a Hong Kong movie so far.

Teresa Lee got herself a nomination but feels totally miscast in her police role. In her first scene we see a kind of girlish and childish nature to her character but I hoped she would bring out her toughness in the action scenes. No such thing. She is almost always spunky and that aspect is the worst during the big climax of the movie. It's painful to watch her trying to pull off some comedy which didn't need to be there in the first place and how she got a best supporting actress nomination is a mystery to me. No doubt a talented girl, just not this time.

The one dimensional bad guys primarily consists of Mr. Bunman himself, Anthony Wong and it seems like he always strives to have a certain odd trait to his psychopath characters. In Mongkok Story he was a b-movie actor/triad and in Big Bullet he swears in Italian for no reason whatsoever (although the subtitles always translates his cursing to 'Damn'). Only Anthony can pull something cheesy like this off and it's an entertaining but at times chilling part he has here.

Finally in a supporting part we see So Good's favourite Francis Ng as the ex-superior and closest friend of Bill Zhu. Francis reminds me of Chow Yun-Fat because he always manages to steal every scene he's in just by being there. If that's not screen presence I don't know what is. He also gets to participate in the big street shoot-out and even though he's not in the movie after this, he utilizes his time well. He and Lau Ching Wan would later become a great double act in Ringo Lam's Full Alert.

Big Bullet no doubt should be criticized for abandoning what could've turned into a serious and even mature piece of action cinema but don't take my criticism too hard. Watch it yourself and you'll see that this is still a very entertaining Hong Kong action movie. One of the better ones of the late 90s as a matter of fact.

The DVD:

The Universe dvd presents the movie a 1.77:1 aspect ratio. Overall it's a decent effort but in general the transfer looks too soft and a bit over saturated at times. Dirt on the print appears now and then but it's never distracting.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 is very lively and active in all speakers but isn't as powerful of an experience as you would think. A Mandarin 5.1 track is also included.

The English subtitles are generally good with only a few amusing spelling and grammar errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

The normal selection of Universe extras consists of Star Files's (in both English and Chinese) for actors Lau Ching Wan, Jordan Chan, Teresa Lee, Cheung Tat Ming and director Benny Chan.

The theatrical trailer for this movie as well as Young & Dangerous 3, Lifeline, Expect The Unexpected and The Longest Nite are also on the disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson