20 Years Later: Revisiting Bullets Over Summer 爆裂刑警 (1999)

Long before Wilson Yip hit big-time collaborating with Donnie Yen in numerous action movies such as SPL <殺破狼> (2005), Flash Point <導火線> (2007) and most notably, the Ip Man <葉問> franchise, he was primarily known as an indie director working on small-scale HK movies.

One of them happens to be Bullets Over Summer <爆裂刑警>, which was originally released in Hong Kong back on August 5th, 1999. The movie revolves around two police officers Mike Lai (Francis Ng) and Brian Leung (Louis Koo) assigned to stake out the home of a suspected arms dealer (Lo Meng) in connection with the recent bank robbery headed by a gang of vicious thieves (Joe Lee Yiu-Ming, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Kenny Wong Tak-Ban and Roderick Lam Chung-Kei).

So, Mike and Brian end up renting a nearby apartment building owned by a nameless granny (Law Lan) from across the street. Over the course of their stakeout, the granny subsequently mistook them as her grandchildren and they force to play along. Then, more subplots added in as Mike falls for Jennifer (Malaysian-born Stephanie Lim Mei-Ching), a heavily pregnant single mother who operates a laundry shop while Brian tries to woo an aimless schoolgirl Yen (Michelle Saram).

When I first watched the movie back in 1999, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. This was most likely due to the English title of Bullets Over Summer <爆裂刑警> that misled me thinking it’s an all-out buddy-cop action movie. Now, having revisited the movie again recently, I managed to appreciate it more than I used to in the first place.

Wilson Yip, who also co-wrote alongside Matt Chow (who also plays a small role as one of the apartment’s neighbours) and Cheung Man, is clearly more interested in expanding their storyline beyond the buddy-cop genre trapping. This is particularly evident during the middle part of the movie, which mostly deviates its main stakeout plot in favour of numerous subplots.

Such an approach can be easily dismissed as an unnecessary filler but in the case of Bullets Over Summer <爆裂刑警>, it somehow works well. This is largely thanks to solid performances all around, with Francis Ng (who received an HKFA Best Actor nomination but lost to Andy Lau in Running Out of Time <暗戰>) excels the most as the temperamental cop, Mike Lai. He pairs well with Louis Koo, who made quite an impression playing a laidback and carefree Brian Leung. Then, there’s Law Lan, who delivers a spot-on performance as the senile granny — a role which won her the HKFA Best Actress in the 19th Hong Kong Film Awards. The rest of the supporting cast including Michelle Saram’s Yen, Stephanie Lim Mei-Ching’s Jennifer and even Joe Lee Yiu-Ming’s heartless leader of the wanted bank robbers acquit themselves well enough in their respective roles.

It also helps that the story is mostly well-written with sharp and witty dialogues, which makes this otherwise leisurely-paced movie feels like a breeze to sit through. As for the action sequences, they may have been kept to a bare minimum but even so, the two gunfight setpieces — one involves in the opening convenience store and another one takes place in the granny’s apartment building — are staged with reasonable verve by Adam Chan Chung-Tai.

Too bad for the climactic third act, which almost derails the entire movie with a drastic yet patchy last-minute tonal shift involving one of the characters. Not to mention the strangely melodramatic finale that feels as if Wilson Yip loses his grip over his otherwise steady direction.

In addition to the aforementioned Hong Kong Film Awards’ Best Actor nomination and Best Actress winner, Bullets Over Summer <爆裂刑警> was also nominated for Best Sound Design but lost to Kinson Tsang in Purple Storm <紫雨風暴>.


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