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The Runaway Pistol
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"I knew I shouldn't have made 'The Mummy, Aged 19.'"      "Get away from the urinal!"

(left) desperate souls Barbara Wong and Wilson Yip, and (right) one of the Runaway Pistol's many owners.
Chinese: 走火槍  
Year: 2002
Director: Lam Wah-Cheun  
Producer: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung  
Cast: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun, Barbara Wong Chun-Chun, Wong Yuk-Lam, Kenneth Bi, Crystal Lui, Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
The Skinny: As life-affirming as a trip to your local funeral home, this indie art film from Lam Wah-Cheun is ambitious, disturbing and undeniably interesting. It's also given to a negativity that's downright distressing. The film is worth seeing, but its stance as a social critique seems decidedly one note. However, opinions will definitely vary.
by Kozo:

Looking for a good, life-affirming time at the movies? If so, The Runaway Pistol should be avoided like the plague. This low-budget indie from frequent Fruit Chan collaborator Lam Wah-Cheun is part art film, part social critique, and all emotional downer. Still, this pessismistic argument for gun control possesses an interesting narrative and a darkly satisfying sense of humor. As intriguing cinema, this film gets high marks, but don't expect any warm fuzzies.

The film follows a number of characters as they each take possession of the eponymous pistol, an aged revolver which apparently has been through numerous decades and on various continents. At first it's claimed by a Nepalese man who takes it from his housekeeper girlfriend. He then sells it to a low-level triad, who wants it for his boss. However, those plans are never met. After claiming the life of a mainland sex worker, the gun falls into the hands of a Hong Kong masseuse/prostitute (filmmaker Barbara Wong Chun-Chun). She toys with killing her debt-ridden boyfriend (director Wilson Yip), leading to the possibility that the gun may claim his, her or even some innocent bystander's life by random association.

All this isn't the gun's fault—we're told this directly via voiceover, which to no one's surprise is the inner voice of the gun itself! It's quick to tell us that it's not responsible for the killing. Nope, it gets handed from person to person, place to place, circumstance to circumstance. Sometimes it takes a life, sometimes it doesn't. The individual scenes are vignettes of varying lengths; sometimes the gun's effect on a life is larger than on others. Sometimes it's quick, imaginary, or briefly threatening. And not once is our friend, Mr. Runaway Pistol, ever really responsible. Like guns in real life, the effect the runaway pistol achieves depends largely on the person that comes into possession with it. Were it found by Charlton Heston, he'd probably melt it for scrap. The guy has better guns anyway.

But NRA members and the happy-go-lucky are not the recipients of the gun. The runaway pistol carves its way through a variety of desperate individuals: triads, prostitutes, cuckolded husbands, jilted lovers and a pair of mainland thieves. Why each person does what they do with the gun is not always explained. Sometimes the situations strain credibility, but the there is an undeniable morbid fascination to where the gun goes and who it touches. The results can be tragic, morbid, pathetically fitting or simply mildly unfortunate. That the vignettes vary in depth and length gives the film an enthralling cinematic feel. Getting drawn into The Runaway Pistol is not hard.

However, there's one thing absolutely the same about each and every one of the gun's stories. In each vignette, nothing good ever happens. There is no affirmation of justice, just cruel irony and sometimes a lingering karma. Society is the target for Lam Wah-Cheung's pen, camera and other assorted weapons (Lam directed, wrote, shot and probably distributed the movie personally). This is apparent through the variety of victims, who vary in social standing and place of origin (the gun travels from Hong Kong to Shenzen, among other places), and in Lam's narrative choices. He uses the television news as sometimes ironic counterpoint, always managing to remind us that society is full of greed, stupidity, dumb luck, cruel fate and the power of the lowest common denominator. Life sucks, and the gun's journey is a potent reminder of that.

Which is where the film loses track of itself. Since the film starts downbeat and never wavers, any sense of surprise gets relegated to minor narrative choices. And after a while, even those get predictable. Lam's crossing and shifting of locations and stories may be enthralling, but it renders the film's punches into a series of same-feeling jabs. Time and time again, we get reminded that there are no winners here, and yet everybody and nobody are simulataneously to blame. Lam doesn't make any of his characters likable—a fitting decision because average everyday life does not usually produce charismatic, winning individuals—but that unrelenting pessimism gives the film no real place to go. Again, life sucks. The film tells us, we nod our head, and the cycle begins again.

As a piece of low-budget filmmaking, The Runaway Pistol is exemplary. There is a genuine feel to Lam's camera, be it in dirty back alleys or spartan middle-class apartments. The actors are uniformly authentic, giving naked performances that don't attempt any meddlesome subtext or artistry. This film is an almost absurd road trip, and even with the one-note message and predictable narrative choices, it manages a rare cinematic feat: it affects. Some may love the film for its storytelling, others for its authentic street-level feel. And yet others may hate the film for its pessimism and lack of redeeming value. It's really hard to predict what each individual will take from the film, but it's likely some opinion will be formed. And that's worth something, isn't it? (Kozo 2003)


22nd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Nomination - Best New Artist (Barbara Wong Chun-Chun)
39th Annual Golden Horse Film Awards

Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Director (Lam Wah-Cheun)
Nomination - Best Screenplay (Lam Wah-Cheun)
9th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
Recommended Film


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen