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John Woo loses the plot
on 7 November 2006
It's a common belief that John Woo lost his way when he moved to Hollywood, but in truth his career was always highly erratic even in his Hong Kong days. For every Better Tomorrow or The Killer on his resume there's at least one disappointment on the level of Bullet in the Head.
On paper Bullet in the Head looks like John Woo's most ambitious and under-rated film, but sadly it turns out to be an entirely derivative and largely ineffective shoot-em-up that blows its few good ideas in all the overkill. There's the germ of a good idea in its sprawling tale of three friends who skip the rioting Hong Kong of 1967 to make their fortune in the chaos of Vietnam, but it's quickly lost amid the cartoon carnage - this is the kind of film where Woo will add a bomb disposal man having his arms blown off to the background of a romantic parting, and that's one of the more subtle scenes. Clunking construction and wild leaps of logic abound (it's hard to take Jacky Cheung's cries of "Don't make me commit murder!" seriously after we've just seen him gun down thirty people) and the tragedy of Vietnam is reduced to the level of a video game in several over the top and largely uninvolving action scenes.
There are a few mildly effective moments, such as Simon Yam's memorable introduction, but the lasting impression is of a hack who has seen The Deer Hunter and The Killing Fields several times without ever really understanding them. Horrendously disappointing. No misjudged underappreciated lost masterpiece, just a mess.
The 2-disc UK DVD is packed with reverential features, although it's often hard to reconcile the great claims made with the film itself.