The Bullet Vanishes
Synopsis: In the span of six months, strange and bizarre homicides start to occur in an arsenal in the Tiancheng Province. Four men die from gunshot wounds, yet no bullet casings are found. A rumor spreads throughout the factory of a 'ghost bullet', one that never lands and continues on its path, taking down all living souls that stand in its way. Newly appointed police officer Song (Ching Wan Lau) joins forces with a young and ambitious detective, Guo (Nicholas Tse) to investigate.
Mystical mystery draws on familiar influences.
Just like Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, the mystery unfolds with jump-cut flashbacks that capture minute details of the case
Chi-Leung Lo’s The Bullet Vanishes is a well-crafted knock-off of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes reboot. Look closely and you’ll also see a dash of De Palma’s The Untouchables and host of western genre tropes, too. The presence of action hero Nicholas Tse and a winning performance by Lau Ching-wan go a long way to ensuring this handsome if underdone mystery-thriller is as engaging as it is.
The death of a young woman at a Shanghai munitions factory kick-starts a story of supernatural mysticism, high-level corruption (a familiar and popular contrivance of Chinese cinema) and CSI-like detective work. Subsequent killings suggest that the ghost of the young woman has returned, seeking vengeance; the corpses of those implicated in her demise appear to be shot but no bullets have been found.
Master sleuth Inspector Song Donglu (Lau) is brought on board and immediately starts applying his all-or-nothing approach to police work. (He’s first seen dangling by his neck attempting to solve a faked suicide.) Reworking the character that brought him fame in Johnny To’s Mad Detective, Lau is a stoic presence, a kind of anti-Robert Downey Jr. who grounds some of the script’s more outrageous leaps in logic. Partnered with a reluctant Guo Zhui (the always charismatic Tse) who’s known about town as the “the fastest gun in all o’ Tiancheng”, the pair use pretty fortune teller Little Lark (Yang Mi) and some very old school theorising to build a case against cruel factory owner Ding (Liu Kai-chi) and solve the mystery.
Just like Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, the mystery unfolds with jump-cut flashbacks that capture minute details of the case, and some cracking bursts of expertly choreographed violence. (A slow-mo explosion sequence is ripped right from the first Sherlock Holmes film.) But unlike its inspiration, The Bullet Vanishes is an occasionally plodding affair that could have used some brevity (there’s no ‘Dr Watson’, for instance). The romantic subplots are also perfunctory; one wishes Lo had further explored the oddly spiritual bond between Song and the ethereal murderess he helped imprison.
The Bullet Vanishes is set against the backdrop of the industrial reforms in China during the 1930s, as the newly rich exploited the poor. The plight of the factory workers has resonance, though the theme just sort of sits there without deeper exploration – though it’s a bold move to include any such inferences in a Chinese film (to the producers’ credit). The setting does lend itself tremendously to some beautiful period design work and CGI cityscapes, most of which are on par with the best FX work from anywhere in the world.
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