Nicholas Tse shows that unofficial remakes are elementary.
THE BULLET VANISHES (Law Chi-Leung). 103 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (August 31). For venues and times see Movies. Rating: NNN
From the storyline to the poster, The Bullet Vanishes seems like a Hong Kong homage/rip-off of the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies. As far as unofficial foreign-language remakes go it's pretty good, boasting production values that match Hollywood blockbusters' and enough twists on the formula to avoid charges of plagiarism.
Lau Ching-Wan stars as the eccentric detective Bao, who physically puts himself through the victim's predicaments to solve crimes. He's been teamed up with cocky young inspector Guo (Nicholas Tse) and assigned to a series of killings attributed to the ghost of a murdered factory worker. As the body count rises, the cops become targets, with shootouts and fisticuffs ensuing.
Director Law Chi-Leung knows the genre, creating a creepy 1930s Shanghai that supports the supernatural element and spicing up his set pieces with techniques like shooting flashbacks as if they were silent films.
Lau and Tse do their reluctant-partner thing well enough to ground the film and compensate for the hysterical cardboard villainy of the factory owner and his goons. The action comes in controlled, choreographed bursts, and the mystery is carefully crafted, with genuine surprises.