Runaway Pistol

Director Lam Wah Chuen attacks his audience with a continual series of ice pick stabs to the organs with this dark disturbing film. This is a helpless scream in the dark – a Hong Kong Guernica of violence, pain, hatred and destroyed lives. A long time cinematographer for Fruit Chan, Lam treads the same low budget, unknown actors, independent territory, but his film feels like trawling through the gutter of mankind with not even a ray of hope offered to the audience. The world is cruel and unforeseen Lam seems to be saying, no one is safe from a world where violence bubbles up to the surface like an infected boil ready to burst. It’s brilliant filmmaking  - raw and visceral – hypnotic in its uncompromising hopelessness.  It is also one of the most fevered cries against guns put to celluloid – but there is no hollowed preaching here, no answers – just the cold stark reality of a gunshot to the stomach.
The narrative is told from the perspective of a gun – at first this struck me as a rather nonsensical framing device – almost cutesy – but as the story unfolds you realize that this adds a sad overview to it. Only the gun empathizes with his victims – only the gun shudders in horror at what it does. In kinetic fashion the film follows the gun around, as it is passed/found from one person to another over a short period of time. The film stays with this person until the gun finds another owner, another victim. It’s never a happy ending for someone. One couple upon finding the gun exclaim “this is our lucky day” – we know that’s not likely – their luck just took an express bus south.
Over the film’s 84 minute running time, it tells a number of short ragged stories – some drawn out a little longer, some brief and quickly ended with a burst of gunfire. It begins with an Indonesian housemaid who hands it over to her Nepalese boyfriend (the gun wistfully mentions that he thought his days of destruction were over with the maid – but then he rues they never really are).  He sells it to a young triad punk whom ends sticking it in a girl’s mouth while having sex and on drugs and being filmed – the gun gets off, he doesn’t. A young Mongkok hooker (director Barbara Wong) finds it on the street, takes it home, her abusive boyfriend (director Wilson Yip) and she decide to sell it for a quick fix of gambling money – she gets the buy call while using her feet to satisfy a customer – the buy goes very wrong (the husband is played by director Kenneth Bi). A little girl points it at her mom – a broken hearted lover uses it to assuage his pain – two Mainland robbers think it’s their ticket to riches. And so it goes.
There is barely a shred of humanity that leaks out of this story that in a sense has no beginning and no end. Perhaps Lam could be accused of going overboard with this negative portrayal of the human race – hitting us over the head with one ugly moment after another until we feel like we have reached bottom on the human scale. I find his total unwillingness to give the audience a morsel of remorse or hope rather wonderful if far from feel good. Almost any other director making an anti-gun film would almost certainly set it up so that you cared about a character and then had them shot  - so that you would feel an emotional impact – but Lam doesn’t go down this easy path – his characters are flawed or worse (even a group of children turn into a pack of wolves). Yet he still manages to make it all painful and frightening – and discharges a jolt of dread to your synapses each time the gun is picked up. From a technical aspect this is a very well made film – a wonderful eye for street scenes, terrific fluid camera movement, crisp editing, good color schemes – and the performances from these actors (fellow directors or unknown to me) feel absolutely authentic. This is easily one of the best films in 2002 and perhaps one of the more systemically socially cynically downbeat films since Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounter – 1st Kind .

(Pictures obtained from the official Runaway Pistol website)

My rating for this film: 8.0