The 1990 film Bullet in the Head engages at every turn. At once a political epic, a story about childhood friends and loyalty, as well as a tale of corruption and war, John Woo's action-packed face-off contrasts '60s ideal... more »ism--the Beatles and Elvis--against the shifting tide in the East. It's plain that Woo has pulled his trio of heroes straight from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America as well as Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, but there are bits of Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause tossed in for good measure. The old Chinese way of life is fading in the face of the emergent Vietnam War and Chairman Mao's Red Army, and Hong Kong struggles under archaic British rule. Three friends--Ben (Tony Leung), Frank (Jacky Cheung), and Paul (Waise Lee)--rub up against gang warfare, capitalism, and opportunism in a life that is strongly tinged by Western culture. Ben falls in love and wants to marry Jane (Fennie Yuen). Frank has borrowed money from a warlord to pay for his pal's bridal bash but a rival group, led by Ringo and his thugs, are hell-bent on keeping loose-cannon Frank from keeping his promise. The boys kill Ringo in a face-off and the cops come looking for them, separating Ben and Jane. The trio escapes to exploited luck-of-the-draw Saigon to make their fortunes. Luck, however, isn't with them. In a violent, balletic dance to honor, greed, and a teenage pledge that is challenged with adulthood, Bullet in the Head is sentimental despite its exquisitely choreographed blood bath; it's steeped in the kind of code-of-ethics morality that has been the glue of buddy films since the beginning of cinematic time. Bullet in the Head is a tale of love and betrayal played out against a backdrop of wartime chaos, and while Woo had made other vital and vibrant movies--The Killer, Hard Boiled, and A Better Tomorrow--none were as impassioned as Bullet in the Head. That it retains its innocence at all is a tribute to this Hong Kong action auteur, who brands his movies with visual flair as well as a palette splattered with blood. --Paula Nechak« less
Produced in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, John Woo's BULLET IN THE HEAD is both a response to the appalling violence that was taking place in mainland China at the time, and a pointed examination of the director's traditional themes of loyalty and brotherhood and the consequences of betrayal. For all its explosions and gunplay, however, the film is a very human drama, played out against the vast backdrop of the Vietnam conflict, and invested with such a palpable sense of love and compassion for its leading characters and their circumstances that it defies all attempts at categorisation.
The cast is pure gold: Tony Leung (superb as the film's tragic 'hero'), Jacky Cheung (giving a revelatory, career-making performance) and Waise Lee play lifelong friends who flee from a murder rap during the civil unrest of 1960s Hong Kong, only to have their loyalties tested to breaking point by their experiences in wartime Saigon. Overall, the film is less an action-thriller than an operatic valentine to Woo's teenage years in HK and to the personal values which have shaped and defined his films since A BETTER TOMORROW. Only HARD-BOILED comes close to it in terms of greatness, though many people - myself included - would argue that BULLET is not only Woo's finest achievement to date, but also one of the best films ever made, anywhere. "
18 minutes cut from this VHS and DVD!
Libretio | 01/24/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Yes its true, unless you saw the movie in its theatrical debut or live in France and happen to own a laserdisc player you have never seen the full version of this film.The full version runs 138 or 135 minutes(depending which ending, there are 2). Its a very different film compared to this hacked up for the rest of the world version. ITS NOT RIGHT! And how about those subtitles? I don't even speak the language and i could have done a better job than that! They even dub Tony Leung in his own language for some beyond strange reason.This DVD is a throw away.Wait and hope until Anchor Bay gets the full print and beefs it up. This is just pathetic."
This is John Woo's version of A Better Tomorrow 3
Dune21 | Paris, France | 03/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I noticed nobody mentions this detail :Bullet in the Head is John Woo's version of the third part of the "A Better Tomorrow" saga... or Tsui Hark's ABT 3 is another version of Bullet in the Head, depending on who you trust.The Amazon review of ABT3 (by David Chute, see elsewhere on this site) states that John Woo wrote the script, but was supplanted by Tsui Hark as director of the movie. There is no hard evidence of this.Apparently, Tsui Hark and John Woo competed to shoot and release their own version of the script of ABT3... I don' know who was faster, but Tsui Hark had the rights to the title. According to articles in the trade specialist press (HK Orient Extreme, possibly the most professional magazine on Asian cinema worldwide), they had worked together on the script before they ended their collaboration. So "A Bullet in the Head" and "A Better Tomorrow 3" are actually 2 versions of the same storyline. The differences and variations, and the way each of these two geniuses shot their own version is quite interesting. For those who know Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the way each of the two directors shot the outdoor scenes is also quite interesting. Whose version is the best? In any case, the two movies are great, and they are even better when compared to each other (if that makes sense).Who owns the actual story? My personal intuitive inclination goes to Tsui Hark, who was always a better writer than John Woo and had a personal involvement in this story (if I'm not wrong, he grew up in Saigon and witnessed the fall of the city). For one thing, he depicts the city and its people with more empathy and depth than John Woo. But I may be wrong : If someone has the final word or some kind of historical angle on this, please enter your review, I'll be glad to read more on this. If Mr. John Woo or Mr. Tsui Hark would care to comment on this issue on this Amazon site, (you never know, I get lucky sometimes), I think it would be great for all HK cinema fans worldwide."
Joseph Culbert | Minneapolis, MN | 10/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Those people familiar with John Woo's work might know what to expect from this movie -- except you won't. This was one of Woo's final Hong Kong films before he went to Hollywood, and it is rivalled only by his masterpiece "Hard Boiled". But while Hard Boiled offered pure action, Bullet in the Head is an entirely different story. It's neither a typical Vietnam film, nor is it a typical HK action flick -- instead it's a shattering drama about friendship and brotherhood violently destroyed. In the past, to friends who aren't familiar with Woo's work, I've described his films as "chick flicks for guys" -- which is accurate. Woo invokes feelings of fraternity and male friendship like female-oriented movies tend to do for the opposite gender. In Woo's world, violence (even theatric, unrealistic violence) is one of the few ways the male can express his emotions, even if the violence is forced on him by the circumstances. When one friend betrays another -- as happens in this film -- the consequences are staggering. At this point, late in the film, Woo produces the most dramatic scenes ever seen in any of his films. This is my favorite Woo film ever -- and for good reason."
More than 3 minutes cut i'm afraid
Charles White | memphis tn | 01/13/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"first off, i love this movie, its very dark and evil and is john woo's best movie.a staggering 18 minutes has been cut from this version! thats right, and not only that but they even place what little intact scenes they have left out of order and do the worst dubbing job in the history of asian films.the prison camp scenes were pretty gruesome and horrifying until Tai Seng decided to slice this film to shreds. what were they thinking! they put out a french laserdisc that is the full version, its just sad.do not buy this! if you want help don't buy any Tai Seng stuff (i know, i can't either) until they get it in their heads people actually like uncut films."