peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2023 12 09 BulletToTheHead

Bullet to the Head (1990)

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One of John Woo's early features. You can see why Hollywood wanted him: it's far superior to Face/Off. Also some Tony Leung completism: he's so young here and gets all the ladies.

The brothers-for-life from Hong Kong (Leung, bestie Jacky Cheung and more distant Waise Lee) decide to get rich by smuggling stuff to wartime Sài Gòn. Before heading off Leung gets hitched to schoolgirl Fennie Yuen as anti-British riots roil the streets. Once in Thailand (standing in for Việt Nam) Woo remakes some classics of the area: a suicidal motorcyclist, a Vietcong summarily executed by an Army officer with a revolver, pre-immolation monks, and slightly wonkily, the classic image from Tienanmen Square of a bloke in front of a tank. Soon enough they get ripped off but decide to brave the boss (Chung Lam) who works out of a nightclub. This is the Twin Peaks roadhouse part: singers (specifically Yolinda Yam) and ultraviolence. Soon enough they decide that the easiest way out is take on the boss. Let's call this the Scarface movement. They get a lot of help from the CIA's local French-Vietnamese super soldier Simon Yam and some impedance from the singer. After that things get more purely The Deer Hunter with some boat action not too far from Apocalypse Now and the title is realised. And after that things get tidied up in an improbable and inessential urban gangster manner. We're certainly not here for the reality.

Once again the world is made of fire, but Woo is not entirely crass here: he keenly observes the parallels between the peace protests in Sài Gòn of the 1960s and the (cough) Brexit riots in Hong Kong. The cinematography by Wilson Chan, Ardy Lam, Chai Kittikum Som, and Wing-Hang Wong is often quite fine. I found the dubbing to be really annoying — it's often hard to figure out who's talking. It's got an epic sweep like a Sergio Leone, with that gold fever. Jacky Cheung left me cold initially but he has some great scenes and is very funny (at the right times). The Vietnamese generally don't get speaking parts and are as trivialised as ever.

Somehow not reviewed by my usual reviewers. IMDB trivia.