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Fans of non-Hong Kong Chinese cinema who are impatient from the long
take, long shot style of Tian Zhuangzhuang (The
Blue Kite), Jia Zhang Ke (Platform), and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Flowers
of Shanghai) should prepare themselves for The Missing Gun. It stars Jiang
Wen, whose biggest role may be that in Zhang Yimous Red Sorghum, but he is
also the director of the recent and much-acclaimed Devils on the Doorstep. The
Missing Gun though is made by a brash, young newcomer, Lu Chuan, and for mainland
Chinese movies, its a radical departure. No glum affair like Beijing
Bicycle or exotica like Raise the Red Lantern is this, but rather a
pumping, in-your-face style-fest. While Lu claims Francis Ford Coppola as a hero, his film
is far closer to Trainspotting.
The credit sequence has the camera careening down the streets of the provincial village
setting in fast-motion accompanied by a head-banging music beat (by Felling Band).
Different scenes sport jump cuts, a whirling camera, surreal imagery, and a playful use of
The story is similar to Akira Kurosawas Stray Dog. A cop, Ma Shan (Jiang), awakens after a night of drunken celebration to find his gun missing. His sister got married and he cant remember what happened, how he got home or who took him. In China, where guns are extremely rare and gun ownership is strictly forbidden, the loss of a gun means possible dismissal and definite humiliation. Tracing his path backwards, he encounters stuttering Liu (Wei Xiaoping), a bricklayer turned noodle-seller, fellow war veteran Old Tree Ghost (Pan Yong), and old police friend Chen Ying (Ji Pei). They point him toward possible suspects, shady businessman Zhou Xiaogang (Shi Liang), who runs an illegal liquor factory, and Ma Shans old lover, Li Xiaomeng (Ning Jing, Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker), who has recently returned to town. The situation goes from bad to worse for Ma Shan when a murder victim turns up, shot with his gun.
A subplot involving Ma Shans troubled relationship to his wife Han Xiaoyun (Wu Yujuan) and son Ma Dong (Wang Xiaofan) provide the film with some needed poignancy. Han suspects Ma Shan of cheating on her with Li and accuses him of not being a father to Ma Dong. Yet the boy shows continued devotion to his father, saying he will find daddys gun in exchange for the promise of no more beatings.
Lu Chuans bravura style is assured for a first feature, if a bit too showy, but it is invigorating in the context of contemporary Chinese cinema. Lu milks much humor from Western influences a ridiculous-sounding telephone ring, an Italian suit and through the deadpan acting of Huang Fan and Li Haibin, who play Ma Shans sister and her new husband, respectively. For all the stylization, the heart of the film rests on the shoulders of Jiang Wen, who proves more than worthy of the task. His slow-burning intensity with moments of explosive emotion supplies an intriguing interior monologue with the characters essential decency. If Jiang keeps this up, hell soon be as large a figure as Zhang Yimou on the Chinese cinematic landscape.
- George Wu