'Let The Bullets Fly' is a funny, classy, profane Chinese spaghetti western - with rice noodles and hot sour sauce substituting for spaghetti.
The film's humour goes over the top (with CGI assistance), with one of its funniest and most reference-laden scenes of a train holdup by bandits in 1920 warlord China during the first few minutes leading into the titles. The steam railway engine belches smoke, like any fire chariot... but wait, it's being drawn by horses. All that smoke is from the biggest Sichuan hotpot you've ever seen, that almost fills a luxurious private carriage in which a new provincial governor (Ge You), his wife (Carina Lau), and counselor (Feng Xiaogang) are carousing and banqueting as they journey to their new post, protected by a second carriage full of highly alert Republican guards armed with ancient matchlocks. All are unaware that they are targeted for ambush by bandit leader Zhang (Jiang Wen).
This is the fourth film directed by Jiang Wen, a famous Chinese actor who extends the noodle western metaphor of this film by acting and directing, somewhat in the footprints of Clint Eastwood, but very much in his own style. This is a funny movie with high production values, humour darker and less accessible to non-Chinese audiences than that of Jackie Chan - without the martial arts showmanship and slapstick that Chan brings to his films. The film is not at all in the familiar historical epic/kung fu genre of Chinese movies recently popular in the west.
The script, by Jiang Wen, is adapted from a story by Sichuanese author and satirist Ma Shitu 马识途, 'Dao Guan Ji' 盗官记 ('Tale of the Bandit Official'), from his fictional work published in 1983, 'Ye Tan Shi Ji' 《夜谭十记》('Ten Night-time Tales').
Jiang Wen's cast is well chosen, with particularly good work by his four very capable lead actors, including himself. The most recognizable member of the cast to western audiences, Chow Yun-Fat, plays against type as a villain, Huang, the mob boss of Goose Town. One of China's favourite cinema clowns, Ge You - a Chinese Cantinflas - shows great comic timing throughout in the role of conman Ma Bangde. Carina Lau has the only standout female role as the much-widowed governor's wife. Jiang Wen himself plays the wily, whimsical bandit leader Zhang.
The Emperor Motion Pictures Blu-ray release available through Amazon resellers has excellent image and sound quality, and a second special features disc. Unfortunately for most of the non-Chinese speaking audience, the sound track options are only Mandarin, and - unusually - Sichuan dialect. The English sub-titles are good, but being necessarily abbreviated cannot carry all nuances of the script, or even its Chinese profanity.