THE biggest part of the film calendar has opened with Jiang Wen’s controversial 3D epic film “Gone with the Bullets.”
The highly anticipated sequel to “Let the Bullets Fly” has confounded both critics and cinema-goers with its non-linear plot and its 140-minute running time.
Jiang’s latest offering has earned around 400 million yuan (US$64 million) at the box office nationwide in its first week. Film insiders expect it to gross about 1.5 billion yuan.
“Let the Bullets Fly” is one of the highest-grossing movies in Chinese cinema history after grossing 659 million yuan in 2010. Despite visually stunning effects, many movie buffs consider it an individualistic and meaningless work of narcissism.
Zhang Jian, an administrative manager, says the movie’s tedious dialogue and confusing plot made him think of “The Promise,” director Chen Kaige’s film starring Cecillia Cheung and Nicholas Tse that bombed during the 2005 Christmas season.
“I fell asleep in the theater,” says Zhang. “I woke up because my phone was ringing and then noticed the people who were sitting beside me had already left. It is an absurdly long movie. I have no idea what the filmmaker wants to express.”
IT worker Kevin Yuan admits that Jiang is a talented director with a strong personal style but says the movie is too “preachy” with too many monologues.
“It is neither light-hearted nor heartwarming,” Yuan says. “The director wants to make a movie with a lot of depth and connotation. But film is still a kind of mass art, especially the ones shown in the Christmas and New Year season.”
Jiang isn’t concerned about the controversy or criticism because he says everyone takes their own meaning from a film.
“It would be much easier if I continued to apply the format and structure of ‘Let the Bullets Fly’,” he says.
“But it would not be very interesting or creative,” the director added.
“Gone with the Bullets” is loosely based on the 1920 murder case of Yan Ruisheng. Yan, a playboy in Shanghai, was accused of killing a famed prostitute at that time. He was caught and later sentenced to death.
In the film, the character Ma Zouri follows a similar path as Yan but the director packs in more suspense and absurdity.
A beauty pageant triggers various tragic events with surreal scenes of flying to the moon and bullets falling from the sky.
Some film fans say the script doesn’t make sense and the filmmaker is acting out his adolescence.
Though many people find the movie disappointing, some argue that Jiang’s metaphors, symbols and philosophies are not easy to understand since average viewers are unfamiliar with the history of cinema and film art.
The movie’s opening scene is thought to be a tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” as the main characters discuss hosting a beauty pageant to launder money. Scenes from old silent movies “The Arrival of the Mail Train” and “A Trip to the Moon” are also referenced in the film.
Additionally, the film involves 360-degree panorama shots and the Kuleshov Effect, a famous film editing montage technique.
Movie buff Qu Li’an, a white-collar worker, says “Gone with the Bullets” movie is impressive, calling it “sensual, sensible and sensational.”
“The sensual parts include the hallucination scene in which Ma Zouri and beauty pageant winner Wanyan Ying take drugs with the camera showing their bliss,” Qu says.
“Their vehicle soars toward the moon, which becomes so big and bright,” he says. “The sensible part is the film is actually about justice. There’s not enough evidence to find Ma Zouri guilty, but the media convicts him in the court of public opinion.”
Qu says the music of Loch Lomond, which appears three times, is rather touching. He says the sense of looming tragedy is amplified by the choice of music and hints at Ma’s ending.
Professor Shi Chuan, vice president of the Shanghai Film Association and a film critic, says Jiang’s distinctive satire and penchant for fantasy course through the movie like blood through the body.
“So many celebrated Chinese directors have made compromises with the market by giving up their own artistic style and voice,” Shi says. “Jiang is an exception. He hasn’t lost the courage to express something new and different. The film’s storytelling structure is also very close to that of a Hollywood production.”
He is optimistic about the film’s future box office performance, adding the only movie that will likely challenge it is Tsui Hark’s 3D action blockbuster “The Taking of Tiger Mountain,” which opened on Christmas Eve.