After making two stylish heist comedies that pushed the boundaries of China censorship. Director Ning Hao attempted to go further with No Man’s Land, a comedy set in the desert. However, China’s film censorship authority deemed that Ning had gone too far due to the number of irredeemable characters in the film. Since then, there have been no public screenings of No Man’s Land as it remains trapped in censorship limbo.
Instead of waiting for his baby to see the light of day. Ning decided to move on to Guns and Roses (Hoang Kim Dai Kiep An). Another heist comedy with a huge ensemble cast and a narrative packed with twists. In exchange for getting a bigger budget to play with, Chinese cinema’s answer to Guy Ritchie tells a straightforward and controversy-free story about Chinese heroes during the Japanese occupation, delivering a film that is a much gentler animal than his previous work.
Straying away from Ning’s previous style of having multiple storylines converge into a major payoff. Guns and Roses focuses on Xiao Dongbei (Lei Jia-Yin). Living in a rundown basement with his senile father (Guo Tao) in 1930s Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Dongbei is a street thug who is so desperate for money that he’ll even steal from homeless children and the local church. His attempted church robbery lands Dongbei in prison, where he shares a cell with a captured member of the Chinese rebellion. Before his death, the rebel gives Dongbei his shoes, which contain a message about a shipment of gold due to arrive at the local bank in several days.
After Dongbei comes from prison. He’s chased down by a group of filmmakers led by actress Fang Die (Tao Hong). However, the filmmakers are actually rebels who were the intended recipients of the message regarding the gold. Fang Die eventually reveals to Xiaobei that the gold is being used by the Japanese to buy weapons from the Italians. And that her gang plans to steal the gold to stop the deal from going forward. After Xiaobei earns their trust by helping them hide from the Japanese army. Fang Die invites him into the gang to help with the gold heist. However, the evil Japanese security chief Toriyama (Keiichi Yamazaki) is secretly watching their every move. And Dongbei may not be quite ready to become a team player.
Guns and Roses features many characters and a twisty plot revolving around a McGuffin
Like Ning’s previous films, Guns and Roses features many characters and a twisty plot revolving around a McGuffin. However, the script – written by six scriptwriters. Including Hong Kong’s James Yuen – is also focused on Xiao Dongbei’s evolution from merciless small-time robber to revolutionary hero. With a romance between Dongbei and Xixi (Cheng Yuan-Yuan). The daughter of the local bank’s chairman, thrown in. As a result, Guns and Roses (phim 4K) is no longer like the chaotic free-for-alls that audiences have come to expect from Ning. In fact, the film is surprisingly more successful at emotionally involving its audience than at outwitting them.
At the same time, Ning’s usual audiences may be disappointed by the film’s lack of surprises and satiric humor. The action film (phim hanh dong chieu rap) has a good share of laughs (Fan Wei is especially hilarious as the local priest). And Toriyama is so wickedly nasty in his villainy that he’s often more amusing to watch than the stars. However, Guns and Roses lacks Ning’s morally ambiguous characters and his trademark clever narrative structure that usually keeps the audience on its toes.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with Guns and Roses is Ning Hao himself. Considering that the director’s name is likely the primary draw for the audience and his investors. The heightened expectations – and the possible disappointment that follows – seems only fair. However, on its own terms, Guns and Roses is perfectly satisfying as commercial entertainment. With enough laughs, spectacle and even romance to keep audience attention during its running time. It may not sound like a compliment. But the only reason that anyone should be disappointed with Guns and Roses is because Ning Hao’s name is on it.