Bullets Over Summer (1999)
Reviewed by: morgold on 2000-01-11
Yet another disappointing HK movie that has many elements of promise, yet suffers from unfocused, meandering direction and an unconvincing conclusion. Why has there been such a trend in HK films, since around 1997, to have such lackadaisical direction? It is as if the filmmakers take a number of character elements here--neurotic cops, a senile grandma, a bloodthirsty criminal, and two love interests (one comic, one serious), and experimentally throw them into offbeat yet insignificant situations, hoping the result will somehow be good. Such experiments result in interesting scenes 20% of the time and awkward, miscalculated, or simply poor scenes for the rest--surprising, since director Yip's previous "Biozombie" was much more focused than this.

The action scenes are relegated to the first and last 20 minutes; everything in the middle is character-comedy. It is, surprisingly, the action scenes that are the weakest--abrupt, poorly staged, often inept. Only a claustrophobic apartment shootout gives an appropriate sense of space; the beginning massacre and climax are not only poorly filmed but seemingly belong in a different film, not the comedy we have been watching. The film's ultimate flaw is that it does not know how to rationalize the disparate comedic and dramatic elements it wants to all-encompassingly negotiate. Rather than synthesizing the dramatic action with the humor, the 2 aspects sit like oil and water. Thus, when the action revs up again in the end, we don't know how to respond to the characters' actions, since they have been mostly comedic characters whose dramatic depths have been underdeveloped. So when the drama is played seriously in the end, we don't know how to interpret the character's emotions and motivations beyond the level of formal gesture.

The ending, especially, is a miscalculation. For what the main character does to be convincing, we would need far more complex characterization than what we are given. We are asked to believe that a cop would jeopardize the life of his partner of many years for the well-being of a pregnant woman he has known for only a few days. The justification for this action is pinned on a couple of lines of psychobabble dialog about how he was an orphan, and is missing a family in his life. We then learn he also has some fatal disease, and is thus (I guess) more inclined towards fatalistic actions. But we don't see any of this--we don't see any chnages in his character. All we get is some perfuctory expository dialog, and it does not demonstrate the motivation we need to believe his actions. But even if we did see more of this, I would not be convinced anyway, because the disease-of-the-week routine is an inherently unconvincing plot ploy that was cliched 50 years ago. It is as if the filmmakers dug themselves into plot holes and desperately (and pathetically) needed to dig themselves out, even resorting to plot devices which are far less hip than this film pretends to be.

I have made this film sound worse than it really is, I think. There are some touching moments, and the offbeat relation between the senile granny and the cops she mistakes for her grandsons demonstrates that the filmmakers do have some aspirations beyond the ordinary. In fact, this relationship is more central than either of the love interests; the film would be far less conventional (and commercial) if it dispensed with the romance and just stuck with the granny. But even she is too much of a comic figure, and is not milked for the pathos she should be. All in all, the film is an interesting failure, which may in some ways be more notable than many a mild success.