Provincial policeman Ma Shan (Wen Jiang) wakes one morning and discovers that his gun is missing. Extremely agitated, he retraces the events of the previous night — a cousin’s wedding where everyone, himself included, was too drunk to recall anything. One by one he confronts many of the townsfolk, but this only reveals that Ma Shan’s perceptions and memories have betrayed him. When his former love, who has unexpectedly returned home, is killed by a bullet from Ma Shan’s gun he is arrested. Relying on his wits, Ma Shan turns the tables on his accusers and lays a trap in the hope of catching the person who has stolen his gun.
Review by Louise Keller:
From a single premise of a missing gun, filmmaker Lu Chuan has devised an original and intriguing film that begins as a frenetic dream-like search that subsequently turns into a surreal thriller. While the gun has its own significance, the ensuing search can also be interpreted to represent the search for a new life, or finding the right path. We first meet Ma Shan as he tosses and turns in bed. As the sleepy, ear-bashed husband discovers the loss of his gun, he becomes agitated and life suddenly goes into fast motion, the camera speeding along as he retraces his steps from the night before. We dip in and out of the past, as we meet the people in his life. There’s his dissatisfied wife and son, his newly married sister and husband, the noodle seller (but wasn’t he the bricklayer? and how had he suddenly lost his stutter?) And why was his ex-lover at the home of the town’s richest man? We feel as though we are in Ma Shan’s nightmare, as the world spins and life seems to spiral out of control. He sees people and things as if for the first time. I especially enjoyed the first half of the film with its novel cinematic approach, when we have no idea where the journey is taking us. It’s a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle with the faces we meet falling into place as key players. We get a real sense of place as we peek through windows and negotiate the cobbled back allies with Ma Shan. The second half of the film isn’t entirely successful however, when mystery turns to melodrama. But the innovative concept and resolution work extremely well, leaving us wide eyed from this unexpected journey into a nightmare.
Review by Paul Kalina:
This first feature by Chinese writer and director Lu Chuan is a confidently handled thriller, which inventively adapts typical hallmarks of a paranoia plot — a protagonist caught up in a spiral of events beyond his control — to cast a critical gaze on modern Chinese society.
Abiding Hitchcock’s dictum, Lu puts the viewer in the shoes of his protagonist Ma Shan, a volatile and possibly unhinged cop, and hands us a minimum of necessary detail as Ma Shan scrapes together elusive clues to find his missing gun. Guns are rare in China; as an official, Ma Shan faces a three-year prison term for losing his. Added to this intrigue — Ma Shan was too drunk to recall anything of the night his gun went missing — are skewed and untrustworthy impressions of the various villagers whom he suspects. A man who he remembers as a bricklayer insists he is a long-time noodle seller. Others similarly compound Ma Shan’s confusion. By the time Li Xiaomeng (Ning Jing), the lost love of Ma Shan’s youth, reappears on the scene, a vision of ageless beauty, Ma Shan has become a distant cousin of Vertigo’s obsessive hero Scottie Ferguson (significantly, also a cop). It’s up to the audience to distinguish his observations from his delusions as his quest detours into conspiracies, false leads and Kafka-esque dead-ends. To say more would risk giving away the unexpected twists and turns of this smartly conceived conspiracy thriller, which takes a critical swipe at Chinese society, culture and masculinity. Underpinning Ma Shan’s journey are dark social and behavioural forces — violence toward women and children, alcoholism, greed and distrust — and while Lu Chuan never overstates them the metaphoric resonances cannot be missed or ignored.
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MISSING GUN (M)
CAST: Jiang Wen, Ning Jing, Wu Yujuan, Liu Xiaoning, Shi Liang, Wei Xiaoping, Pan Yong
PRODUCER: Yang Buting, Wang Zhongjun, Jiang Wen, Cao Biao
DIRECTOR: Lu Chaun
SCRIPT: Lu Chaun
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Xie Zhengyu
EDITOR: Zhang Yifan
MUSIC: Felling Band
ART DIRECTOR: LV Dong
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney/Melbourne: October 31, 2002; Adelaide/Perth: November 21, 2002