Bullets Over Summer stars Ng as a lonely cop who finds meaning in life when he meets a pregnant young woman while on a stake-out. The cop and robbers angle is an afterthought, since it’s the characters that make this movie. he attention-grabbing intro in which two undercover cops break up a liquor store hold-up draws the viewer in and keeps them riveted throughout the fast-paced film, which utilizes an edgy cinematography and good character development. An effectively sympathetic drama that is nevertheless buoyed by some sudden violence between the cops and the bad guys. The ending is classic Heroic Bloodshed stuff, and many Westerners will find it a bit puzzling. Those used to Hong Kong cinema won’t be at all surprised.
The cops-in-love motif and the off-the-wall humor doubtless owe something to Chungking Express, but the film is at heart glad to be generic. Bullets Over Summer challenges us to imagine a society, reconstructed, rebuilt, out of anything on hand, in particular out of mis-imagined nostalgia, bits of fake history, scraps of misunderstood affection. The last act of the movie has some weaknesses though. After a warm and tender middle part, the movie goes a bit too far in terms of the violence presented but also the final act of the movie doesn’t feel entirely satisfying. I actually would have preferred little to no voilence in this film as it feels misplaced. The basic setup of Wilson Yip’s film is the Hong Kong version of that Seventies Hollywood staple, the buddy film.
Of course, buddy films don’t necessarily have violence. So what do we have leftover? It’s as if for almost an hour we’ve been lulled by the comedy and drama of this mismatched family, only to watch Brian and Mike bring out the guns. Characters chase each other through stairways and dark alleys in a hot and humid night. The only misstep in the film is giving Mike an incurable disease which allows him to do the wrong thing as a policeman, even if his motivation is admirable. It wouldn’t be at all out of place in a review of highlights of recent Hong Kong cinema, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling the weight of what’s missing.
In the end, Bullets Over Summer is the kind of story Hollywood likes to steal from Hong Kong, but never can do on its own. Good story and great characters. In its structure, Bullets Over Summer is a kind of sandwich: a family comedy centered between 2 slices of male bonding cop drama. The buddy-cop sections evoke a particularly dark, bullet-ridden corner of the genre. It also adds proof to my theory that any film where either Francis Ng or Anthony Wong has a major role can’t be bad. Perhaps a bit lightweight, for a film festival choice, as it was placed in, over 10 years ago, but this is still a solid piece of filmmaking.