Any film headlined by living legends of Hong Kong cinema Anthony Wong and Francis Ng should be an automatic hit, and so “Bullet and Brain” from director Keung Kwok Man certainly has a lot going for it from the start. However, its great cast aside, the film does have a potential caveat in writer and producer Wong Jing, whose presence is probably enough to send alarm bells ringing for some viewers.
To an extent such fears are well founded, as the film is chaotic in the uniquely Hong Kong fashion, making little sense from start to finish. However, for those willing to wave logic aside, the film still makes for an entertaining, unpretentious slice of comic book style fun that has plenty to recommend it for fans of the form.
The plot is entirely by the numbers, beginning as a doomed triad boss gives his granddaughter the password to his bulging Swiss bank account before being bumped off by his greedy second in command Winston (television actor Andrew Wu) and his ungrateful mistress. Rain (Tiffany Tang in her screen debut), the young woman in question is immediately given a police bodyguard in the blatantly incapable form of the inexperienced Fei (Alex Fong, “Love is all Around”), though she understandably decides to call in outside help from Bullet (Ng) and Brain (Wong), two famed criminals who owed her grandfather a favour. With Winston desperate to get his hands on the cash to facilitate a deal with ruthless gambling boss Simon Chung (HK veteran Eric Tsang) he steps up his efforts to grab Rain, only to find himself facing off against the two cool killers. Mayhem, of course, ensues.
“Bullet and Brain” starts off looking as though it might turn out to be a Hong Kong version of recent Hollywood action hit “Shoot ‘Em Up”, coming across all violent and moody, with people being thrown off buildings and gunned down in front of dancing girls. This continues for a while as the film nicely builds anticipation for the titular characters, who are talked about in revered tones as near-mythical killers.
Needless to say, their backstories are pure cliché, with Bullet having sworn off guns after his exotic dancer girlfriend was killed during a shootout, and Brain having sworn off lying after his swindling a gang boss resulted in his family being killed (aside from a young girl whose poor family he had been looking after – as big hearted criminals tend to do) – though this never really grates and actually comes across as being amusingly archetypal.
However, this pretty much goes out the window once Bullet and Brain arrive on the scene. Never seeming bothered in the least with finding, let alone protecting the cute but rascally Rain, Bullet spends all his time skulking around in strip bars drinking milk and creepily trying to find a replacement for his dead lover, and Brain sits at home smoking cigarettes which give off some kind of date rape drug mist that somehow never seems to affect him, whilst trying to resist the advances of the young poor girl who just happens to have grown up into a naïve beauty.
Beyond this, the two are lazy and incompetent – their brilliant idea is to simply move in next door to the main villain, in a move which no doubt looked great on the script page but which in the film makes no sense. Anyone familiar with Wong Jing will not be surprised to hear that in fact the film as a whole is pretty ludicrous, with neither the good or the bad guys ever taking anything even remotely resembling a logical course of action. This holds true right the way through to the daft series of final twists, none of which are even remotely sensible.
Still, this is all par for the course and does not detract from the overall entertainment value in the least, as after all any viewer coming to a Wong Jing opus like “Bullet and Brain” looking for something deep and meaningful pretty much deserves everything they get. If anything, the high level of nonsense only serves to make the film more enjoyable, with the wackiness providing plenty of laughs, intentional or otherwise. It certainly helps that director Keung wisely packs in lots of action and keeps the film reasonably violent and bloody, as well as throwing in gratuitous but entirely welcome scenes of dancing girls and feminine eye candy. His previous experience as a cinematographer comes in handy, and although the film is flashy rather than stylish and has a few moments of rather shabby effects work, it generally looks professional, if not spectacular throughout. John Woo would seem to be an obvious source of inspiration, with Keung lashing on the slow motion, and ending with a bizarre neon filled church set showdown which would probably be enough to send the Hong Kong action master into a fit.
Although “Bullet and Brain” might have benefited from being a bit grittier and more visceral, Hong Kong action junkies with a tolerance for tomfoolery and fans of the stars will certainly find plenty to enjoy. Nowhere else in the world really makes films with the same scatological style, and the film certainly has a very Hong Kong feel, something which in itself makes the film vaguely recommended viewing.
CAST: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Andrew Wu, Tiffany Tang, Alex Fong