Bullet In The Head Review

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After a run in with the Triads, three crooks head to Vietnam, hoping to make a living as smugglers.


Connoisseurs rate this 1990 epic as the greatest of John Woo's bullet ballets, though perhaps because regular star Chow Yun-Fat is absent it hasn't had the success of The Killer or Hard-Boiled. Without Chow it's hard to get a moral fix, so you'll be genuinely surprised when some of the cast go bad and others reveal a deeper heroism. All are driven mad with fear and pain, and scream hysterically through set pieces as alienating as they are visceral.

After upsetting the Triads on their home turf in 1967, a trio of criminals (Leung, Cheung, Lee) flee to Vietnam and attempt to make a killing as smugglers. But their first contraband is destroyed by the Vietcong and they are sucked into a cycle of casual violence. Falling in with another crook (Yam), the group is torn apart as a terrible incident explains the title, winding up - naturally - in a Woo-style holocaust.

But Bullet is let down by various elements that are impossible to take seriously because they lack any ironic edge; such as the irritating bubblegum score. It tries to be a Chinese take on The Deer Hunter, but transports Michael Cimino's meditation on Americanism and savagery into a world where nationality and insanity seem equally absurd. If you weren't moved by 'Nam vets singing America The Beautiful, you might be more stirred by the sight of Woo's characters waving British passports in panic as they try to evade execution.

Critical opinion rates this as the best of the Bullet trilogy but the popular vote goes to the other two, which atar Chow Yun-Fat.