Xun Qiang (2002)

vt The Missing Gun

China / 89 minutes / color with some brief bw / China Film Group, Huayi & TaiHe Dir & Scr: Lu Chuan Pr: Yang Buting, Wang Zhongjun Story: “The Search for a Missing Gun” (n.d.) by Fan Yiping Cine: Xie Zhengyu Cast: Jiang Wen, Ning Jing, Wu Yujuan, Liu Xiaoning, Shi Liang, Wei Xiaoping, Pan Yong, Wang Xiaofan, Huang Fan, Li Haibin.

Waking up the morning after getting outrageously drunk at the wedding of his sister Juan (Huang), small-town cop Ma Shan (Jiang) discovers his police-issue gun is missing—a matter of such deep shame that his entire squad will be punished because of the loss. His sister and her new husband, Liang Qingshan (Haibin), are as incapable of remembering what happened the night before as Shan is himself, and he doesn’t get much help from old friends who were there, such as restaurateur/caterer Chen Jun (Liu) and Old Xiang/Old Tree Ghost (Pan), who claims to have saved Shan’s life many times during the war.

The trail next takes Shan to the home of spivvish Zhou Xiaogang (Shi), who Shan discovers is living with the pretty Li Xiaomeng (Ning), a lover who long ago dumped Shan to marry someone else, but who’s now divorced . . . and still capable of casting a spell over him.

Shan confesses his loss to his superiors and is stripped of his uniform. Continuing to investigate, he discovers that one of Zhou’s crooked enterprises is an illicit liquor factory. When Xiaomeng is found shot with Shan’s gun, his bosses identify him as Suspect #1. However, Zhou, in whose presence she was gunned down, stipulates that Shan wasn’t the killer, and it’s soon obvious that the target was Zhou himself, who shoved Xiaomeng into the path of the bullet.

Deciding to set a trap for the killer, Shan ties up Zhou and, wearing his clothes, takes a bus to the nearby train station, making believe he plans to head out of town. There he’s shot by the noodle-seller Liu the Stutterer (Wei), who thinks he’s Zhou; Liu has lost friends and family to the toxic illicit liquor Zhou sells, and has been seeking revenge.

This noirish tragicomedy could hardly be more different in style from the contemporary offerings of HK cinema; there’s little of the pace and professional sheen you’d expect of something from China’s far better-known movie-production center. This is no adverse criticism: Xun Qiang is in many ways far more interesting and entertaining than the general run of HK noirish thrillers. The first quarter-hour or so can seem pretty disorienting, as the movie seems uncertain as to quite where it’s headed; but thereafter the pace picks up, and the narrative has a happy knack of being able to mix bright humor with genuinely affecting pathos without the combination ever seeming to be a mismatch.

We also witness a China that’s rather distant from the gleaming people’s utopia we might have expected. Shan’s village is pretty run down, and the school of his child Dong (Wang) is missing a few windows. On the plus side, it’s made clear that one of the reasons the loss of Shan’s gun is such a big deal is that there are so few guns available in Chinese society, so that even the three bullets in the lost weapon are significant.

The movie was recognized as Film of Merit at the Shanghai Film Critics Awards, where Jiang won as Best Actor. The theme of a cop questing for his shamefully missing gun is shared with Kurosawa’s classic Japanese noir NORA INU (1949; vt Stray Dog).

On Amazon.com: The Missing Gun or Xun qiang

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