Whilst not the household name he really should be, John Woo is a man that can deliver a solid action flick. I’ve not had the chance to visit any of his filmography outside of his grappling’s with Hollywood, yet another large blind spot in my knowledge. Still, better late than never, and my experience with Bullet in the Head will, hopefully, not be my last viewing of a Woo crafted action flick. Sometimes all you need from a film is some gory explosions and a plot that has minimal consequence, I think that’s what Woo can bring to the table frequently and rather brilliantly. He did it with Face/Off, and at least he tried with Mission: Impossible II, but Bullet in the Head provides the very peak of his directing powers.
You could certainly argue that Woo loses his wisdom to some melodramatic moments, but it all ties in to the tight pacing on display throughout Bullet in the Head. It’s a rare film that will either resonate with a potential fan immediately, or do nothing for them for much of the running time. Either way, it’s hard to ignore the cheesy, tongue-in-cheek violence, which is paired up with some rather drastic and important messages for its audience. Woo manages to blend maturity with childish, action-packed glee, and it’s a mixture that works oddly well. This is more a testament to the talents of our director and the casts ability to sell this over-the-top brilliance, though.
The writing, too, is superb. It has all the unique charms of a Woo action experience, but paired with memorable scenes of explosive, volatile nature. It all comes together incredibly well, the narrative is flexible enough to consider the actions of our characters, but not in any way that feels entirely serious or without an undercurrent charm to everything. There’s justification to the pacing, which relies rather instinctively on action, the gusts of wind created by these explosive scenes steers us vaguely in the right direction, which is a rather unique way of getting us from A to B.
The harrowing trauma and impact the Vietnam war had, the destabilisation it threw at both policies and person, is something that needs to be documented. I’d expected a fast-paced action flick akin to Face/Off, but I received a film that combines choreographed brilliance and a triple-digit kill count with stories of oppression and disgrace that are as harrowing to watch today as they were to experience decades ago. An engaging piece, one that shows off the brutality of war with a commendable, unflinching nerve, all whilst providing some entertaining action and some solid performances. It’s the perfect blend of high-octane energy and a simplistic story of friendship, rattled through in a surprisingly efficient style.