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The Missing Gun

The Missing Gun
Director: Lu Chuan (2002)

If the hushed anticipation prevailing in the small theater before the opening credits of Lu Chuan's much-touted directorial debut The Missing Gun was anything to go by, Columbia's most recent Asian acquisition has triumphed in at least one aspect: everyone noticed.

But has it equally vanquished other, more pertinent hurdles? Not to the same extent, sadly.

Shot on a relatively low budget (Y2 million), The Missing Gun is an oddball whodunit set in a small Guizhou town that gives Twin Peaks a good run for its money. Police officer Ma Shan (Jiang Wen, of Devils on the Doorstep and In the Heat of the Sun fame) embarks on a frenzied quest to regain his vanished weapon, hot on the heels of a nightlong drinking binge.

The lost weapon of the title amounts to a technique to afford a glimpse into the town's life, including some disturbing relationships (such as that of Ma Shan and his wife, played by Wu Yujuan), supposedly hilarious and quirky characters, and a couple of unscrupulous shenanigans.

En route, Ma Shan learns more and more about his own existence and standing in society, slowly peeling away layers of encrusted routine, and even goes as far as almost rekindling his love for resident Li Xiaomeng (Ning Jing). The plot thickens when Li turns up murdered, shot with Ma's stolen pistol.

The story tries to build up towards a critical finale, yet you'll find it difficult to become engrossed or even stay intrigued. Many films bring humor and tragedy together - some beautifully, some a touch on the awkward side. The Missing Gun appears to have been unable to make up its mind which way to lean, resulting in wasted energy and an overall emptiness.

Although the opening is well executed, it is unfortunate that it does not manage to maintain a similar level of suspense throughout. A moving U2-like soundtrack helps improve its stock - and a global distribution deal with Columbia pictures that has helped put billboard ads on the sides of every street - are unfortunately not enough to elevate The Missing Gun into classic-dom.

(cityweekend.com.cn February 12, 2004)

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