Bullets Over Summer (1999)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-08-21
“Bullets Over Summer" is made up almost equally of urban melodrama, gritty cop drama and romance in the time of disease and collapsing social mores. Wilson Yip weaves the three strands together quite well so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

It depicts a Hong Kong where violent crime is everywhere and death by gunfire lurks around every corner. People are shot down while buying a bag of chips in a convenience store or delivering a lunch order. If you show up at work or are part of a wedding party your chances of surviving the day are not good.

We are introduced to two Hong Kong detectives while the opening credits role. Each of them when outnumbered and outgunned by bad guys is much tougher and more resourceful than Dirty Harry on his best (or worst) day—and it is a good thing they are, since the air around them is filled with bullets and flying glass.

Large scale murder has become so commonplace in Hong Kong that even when several citizens and police officers are killed by robbers it is simply taken in stride. No task forces are formed, leaves are not cancelled. Neither the press nor the public cry out for action. It is simply another crime to deal with and is assigned to Brian and Mike with no more urgency than a troublesome rash of burglaries. The only person on the force who is concerned is Prince, their rival, who is worried that he may have to delay his vacation if the killers aren’t caught in time.

The two cops at the center of the story, Brian a skirtchasing slacker and Mike, an intense tough guy make their entrance by happening into a robbery in progress. They kill two of the robbers and capture the third without breaking a sweat—just another day at the office.

The Dragon gang is the next target—and a worthy target they are. The gang robs banks and finance companies and murders all the employees and anyone else they encounter who could possibly identify them. During the most recent robbery, shown in bloody detail, they also kill a number of policemen. Dragon is as evil a character that one can find in the movies and Joe Lee’s depiction of him is pitch-perfect.

In order to keep watch on a suspected arms dealer that gang uses the partners take over the apartment of an old woman who is slipping into senility. They become part of her life and the life of the other apartment owners in the building. She thinks they are her grandsons and is thrilled that they have come to visit her. Mike helps her with some disputes with other tenants and is so well liked that he is elected chairman of the owner’s committee.

The area immediately around the building is full of surprises—and not only the apartment of the suspected gun dealer. While shadowing a suspect Mike sees and almost immediately falls in love with Jennifer, owner of a tiny dry cleaning shop. Jennifer is pregnant and Mike seems as drawn her impending delivery than to her. Meanwhile Brian is infatuated with Yen, a streetwise schoolgirl and god-daughter of their informant. He invites her to the apartment where, after a rough start, she settles in as part of this odd but somehow endearing “family”.

The importance of these budding relationships is underscored when each of the cops abandon surveillance of the only lead they have to spend time with the girl they have met—Mike to accompany Jennifer to the hospital after she faints, Brian just to fool around with Yen.

There is at least one huge hole in the plot. Mike wants to insure the future of Jennifer’s child—Mike was raised in an orphanage. But he could have done so in a much more honorable (and even romantic) fashion than they way he did—but that would have made it a different movie and there would have been no reason for the final gun battle.

An extended scene that is very “cinematic” in itself but also a key part of the action takes place in the apartment of the arms dealer they have been watching. A quarter rolls and rolls and rolls down a corrugated roof—when it falls to the patio beneath the roof the armed suspect will know that a police officer is on the roof above him. The shot of the rolling coin is just long enough to build suspense without becoming ridiculous and the mini-climax is perfect. Later in that scene there is a fight between Mike and the suspect in the suspect’s tiny warren of an apartment—which is decorated with posters from “Taxi Driver”, “Natural Born Killers” and “Thin Red Line”. It is a vicious fight with all the brutality and desperation that it would involve. They are mainly on the floor, trying to find room to throw a punch or land a kick. Very realistic and well done fight scene.

The ending is inevitable and upbeat—but only in the context of the anomic urban wilderness that the Wilson Yip shows as Hong Kong in 1999. The surviving members of the “family” live under the protection of their own police officer which keeps the terror at bay.


Reviewer Score: 7