J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Old School Kung Fu ’16: Big Bullet

Evidently, Hong Kong was a city almost entirely without cell phones in 1996. That would change in a hurry, but their aptitude for action films remains undiminished. In 1996, Benny Chan was also relatively new to the action genre, but his reputation was quickly transformed with Golden Harvest’s release of Big Bullet (trailer here), which screens this weekend as part of Subway’s Cinema’s Old School Kung Fu 2016, with the support of Warner Archive, who have included the HK policier in their series of Golden Harvest classics on MOD (manufactured on demand) DVD (to order, fans must visit The Warner Archive Collection: warnerarchive.com).

After the wildly incompetent and possibly slightly bent Inspector Guan leads his major crimes team on a nearly disastrous raid, soon-to-be Sgt. Bill Chu subsequently explains his disappointment with his fists. Unfortunately, it will be Chu who is busted down in rank and transferred to an emergency response team. However, his reputation proceeds him. Most of his new team members are in awe of the in/famous cop, but not the strictly-by-the-book Jeff Chiu.

Naturally, their contrasting temperaments will lead to conflict when Chu starts pursing Bird and the Professor, two hardcore gangsters who killed his best friend during their freshly launched crime spree. Technically, they are Guan’s case, but he refuses to heed any of Chu’s warnings. That forces Zhu and his team to go rogue, which is fine with most of them.

Big Bullet is a perfect example of how super-slick, uber-stylish execution can make a workaday narrative shine like a diamond. Although there is plenty of fighting, it isn’t what you usually consider a Kung Fu movie, but whatever. The important thing is the action sequences are big-picture in scope but clearly and tightly staged. They all look great on-screen.

It is pretty crazy to watch a relatively young Sean Lau Ching-wan kicking butt as Chu. In a nod to reality, the soon-to-be-late Inspector Yang (played by ever reliable Francis Ng) tells him he is getting a little “stocky” for a cowboy-copper. Maybe so, but he is still all kinds of steely. It is also pretty nuts taking in the now stately Anthony Wong as Bird, the psycho-sleaze, but he is as intense as usual. However, it is Theresa Lee who steals a bunch of scenes as Apple, the girl-next-door patrol officer with mad martial arts skills. She adds the right amount of comic relief, whereas Spencer Lam slightly overdoes it as their Dan, the old veteran of their emergency response van.

Chan really earned his spurs with some massively-charged but totally street level and almost realistic action sequences. He keeps raising the stakes and boosting the adrenaline quite deftly. Of course he had the advantage of what now looks like an incredible all-star cast, who will not disappoint their more recently converted fans. Totally recommended for action connoisseurs, Big Bullet screens this Friday (4/8) and Sunday (4/10) as part of Old School Kung Fu at the Metrograph and is available for sale online at Warner Archive.

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