The Missing Gun (June 20/04)
The Missing Gun's been saddled with such a limited premise - a cop loses his gun and must find it - that writer/director Lu Chuan really had his work cut out for him in keeping things interesting throughout. Unfortunately, for the most part, Lu did not succeed.
The biggest problem here is that Lu has given us a protagonist that's simply not compelling, for reasons that are laid out early on. Ma Shan (Jiang Wen) neglects his wife, beats his son, and doesn't even seem to be a particularly adept police officer. After a night of heavy drinking, Shan realizes that his gun has gone missing - an egregious offense since firearms are illegal in China. Shan is admonished by a superior officer, who warns that since there were three bullets in the gun when it disappeared, up to six people could be killed. This leaves Shan with little choice but to head off on a journey to find the weapon before anyone is hurt.
As a filmmaker, Lu clearly has talent. He's imbued the movie with a distinct sense of style, and makes interesting visual choices (ie he'll often send his camera careening down cramped alleyways and through the streets of China). Perhaps because he knew the script was a little on the thin side (an understatement if there ever was one), Lu places more of an emphasis on unusual cinematic tricks than on dialogue and character development. Oddly enough, it's because of that the movie is as watchable as it is; it's fairly clear that The Missing Gun would've been deathly dull if not for Lu's hyperactive visual sense.
At the film's core is a mystery that isn't intriguing, primarily due to the fact that we really don't care whether or not Shan exonerates himself. We're never given a single reason to empathize with his predicament, especially considering it's his own fault he lost the gun (had he not gotten falling-down drunk, it wouldn't have happened). There's some tension in the realization that guns are all but absent from Chinese culture - it seems that only those in positions of authority are allowed to carry them - but that's such a small element of the story, with Shan's quest meant to keep us engaged throughout.
The Missing Gun isn't the sort of movie one expects out of China these days, as horror movies and oddball thrillers seem to be the norm. While Lu will probably go onto bigger and better things, this is the sort of oddity that's best forgotten.