In 1930’s China, two detectives, Song (Lau Ching-wan) and Guo (Nicholas Tse), investigate a series of murders that take place inside a bullet factory. The murderer leaves behind a very challenging pattern regarding his/her crime: the bullet casing cannot be found anywhere around the victims. Some suspect that the culprit might be the ghost of a factory worker who was killed by her boss for, allegedly, stealing bullets. Song and Guo believe that there’s a human culprit behind the serial killings. Cue the autopsies, red herrings and gun battles. Those who think that the answer might be rather straightforward will be sorely mistaken.
Lo Chi-Leung and Yeung Sin-Ling’s screenplay surrounding the complicated mystery is especially intriguing and fun to watch for. Elsewhere, there’s an intriguing subplot involving Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), an inmate convicted of murdering her husband (Chin Kar-Lok) where Song is trying to learn the truth — together with an entertaining flashback scene shot in stylized black-and-white silent movie-style. Somewhere in between, director Lo Chi-Leung also inserts a couple of lively action set-pieces especially the final Mexican standoff and the slow-motion explosion sequence. As for Lo Chi-Leung, his direction oozes with plenty of style and enthusiasm to keep the viewers intrigued throughout the movie. But still, his movie is not without some of the glaring flaws. The pace is slow and draggy in some parts, while the obligatory romance between Guo Zhui and Little Lark (Yang Mi), who plays a fortune teller, feels like an afterthought. Then there’s the unexpected twist at the finale. It’s a surprise that baffles me, but it also feels unnecessary and also convoluted.
Both Lau Ching-wan and Nicholas Tse give charismatic performances which also help you to become engrossed in their detective work and hope that they get to the bottom of it once and for all. You’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat from beginning to end through every twist and turn. Liu Kai-Chi gives a gleefully over-the-top performance as the crooked Ding and Jiang Yiyan is captivating as the icy Fu Yuan. Most importantly, though, director/co-writer Lo Chi-leung keeps the story grounded in humanism.
Ultimately, The Bullet Vanishes is a stylishly-directed, intelligent and well-acted murder mystery brimming with thrills, suspense and intrigue. There has been chatter that this film is going to be remade for American audiences, but in my opinion, this is Hong Kong’s answer to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Lo Chi-Leung’s The Bullet Vanishes is a stylish period whodunit blessed with charming two leads, clever plotting and impeccable technical areas. Best of all, it’s a huge relief that Lo Chi-Leung has finally made his true comeback after his once-prolific directing career took a huge tumble in 2010. Highly Recommended!