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The Missing Gun
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"It's not missing! See, it's right here!"

Jiang Wen mistakes his finger for The Missing Gun.
  Chinese: 尋槍
Year: 2002  
Director: Lu Chuan  
Producers: Biao Cao, Jiang Wen, Shi Dong-Ming, Tong Gang, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei, Yang Buting, Yang Du
Cast: Jiang Wen, Ning Jing, Wu Yujuan, Shi Liang, Wei Xiaoping, Liu Xiaoning
The Skinny: Human lives are at stake when a police officer loses his gun after a night of drunken revelry. With his job on the line and the citizens on alert, our noble hero must discover his gun's whereabouts before it falls into the wrong hands. Although the film's bravura style sometimes feels a bit too showy, first-time director Lu Chuan delivers an otherwise satisfying film illustrating the impact that one lost gun can have on an entire community.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

The premise of The Missing Gun is deceptively simple: after losing his government-issued firearm, a provincial Mainland cop must retrace his steps to find the pistol before it falls into the hands of a criminal. It seems that the cop in question, Ma Shan (Jiang Wen), drank a little too much at his sister's wedding and can't recall a single thing from the night before. In a country where guns are prohibited, Ma's blunder proves not only dangerous to his career, but to the populace in general.

In a series of bizarre, often amusing vignettes, Ma questions any and every person he can think of, each time learning new information that expounds upon or even contradicts the previous story. Our hero's problems multiply when an old flame (the beautiful Ning Jing) turns up dead at the home of her current lover. To Ma's horror, the murder weapon is undoubtedly his stolen pistol. Now a prime suspect in the brutal homicide, Ma tries to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again.

From a visual standpoint, there's no question that first-time director Lu Chuan maintains a certain bravura filmmaking style throughout the picture. To wit, the movie is loaded with frenetic, MTV-style camera tricks that amp up even the most routine dialogue sequences. But as aesthetically pleasing as these visual marvels can be, at some point they prove to be not only annoying but also quite superfluous. This conceit results in a movie that's a tad too showy at times for its own good. One almost wants to yell, "Get on with it!" during the film's most self-indulgent scenes.

Mainland audiences not accustomed to the techniques of Michael Bay and his demonic hellspawn were likely enticed by Lu Chuan's stylistic choices. However, it probably won't be the visual style that captures the attention of Westerners; they'll probably be more intrigued by the film's premise itself. Although the phrase has become practically a cliché, The Missing Gun actually will transport its viewers, particularly Americans, to another world.

The most astonishing thing about the film—at least from this American's perspective—is how the very idea of a missing gun creates havoc not only for its owner, but for his superiors, the townsfolk, and seemingly all of China itself. There are no gun shows in China, there is no second amendment, and there certainly isn't an NRA. Thus, the characters have a very different reaction to the prospect of a lost firearm than most American characters would, and therefore, the consequences of its disappearance have a far greater impact than they would in a typical Hollywood film.

It's these little differences that make The Missing Gun a treat to watch. One of these little touches that stands out is an entertaining high-speed chase that occurs towards the middle of the film. Unlike the standard "hot pursuit" scene in a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, both cop and crook speed along furiously—not by car, but by bicycle—with hilarious results.

Throughout the film, lead actor Jiang Wen exudes a certain kind of stoic integrity in his portrayal of Ma Shan, as he patiently questions one oddball villager after another in order to unravel the mystery. Amidst this somewhat simplistic narrative, the director weaves in a subplot about Ma Shan's troubled marriage and his wife's jealousy at the return of his former lover to their sleepy community. These nuances only add fuel to the overall mystery, making Ma Shan a more rounded character, rather than a blank slate detective whose only purpose is to solve the case.

The filmmakers sprinkle the film with more than a couple red herrings, but they wisely stop short of going for the obligatory shock ending (which, of course, would render the finale not shocking in the least). Alert viewers will notice that the film toys with this possibility in its subplot, but thankfully avoids committing to this twist, giving the already stressed Ma Shan a villain that wouldn't send the poor boy—and his faithful audience—over the edge.

In the end, The Missing Gun works more like a traditional mystery, at least in terms of who the culprit turns out to be. And really, the twists aren't so much about whodunit, but how Ma Shan uses his skills as a police officer to flush out the culprit. The film's conclusion will come as a bit of a surprise, if not an outright disappointment to some viewers, but the film's ending earns points with this reviewer simply for trying something unconventional. It's that desire to be innovative, along with strong performances from its lead actors, that elevate The Missing Gun a peg or two above the standard potboiler. (Calvin McMillin, 2004)


• Based on a novel by Fan Yipang
• Reportedly, The Missing Gun is China's first film to be digitally projected in a Chinese cinema.


Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Removable English, French, and Portuguese Subtitles

image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Entertainment. Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen