Missing Gun is a film about a gun, but it is less about the gun itself than what it represents — power and (after it goes missing) the loss of power. For most of the film the weapon has power only in potentia and is used on just two occasions, so any puns about execution are really unjustifiable cheap shots (bam!), but it is undoubtedly director Lu Chuan’s work on this picture that sees it rise above a fairly slight concept to something special.
Missing Gun was adapted from Fan Yiping’s novel “The Search for the Missing Gun” but exactly how heavily the book was reworked in the adaptation process is unclear, because the story at the heart of the film is pretty bland. It follows small-town Chinese policeman Ma Shan (Jiang Wen), a man who seems to Have It Made. He is the force’s number one officer, can outride any thief in the district on his bicycle and has just spent the night as the guest of honour at a relative’s wedding, par-taying with the mayor and his boss. Struggling out of bed the next morning however, he discovers things have taken a turn for the worse — his gun has disappeared. Guns are illegal in China, so he faces up to three years imprisonment if it isn’t found. So begins his search for the missing gun, and as Ma retraces his steps, things start to get very confusing — the local bricklayer has become a noodle seller and the voices he is hearing may or may not be in his head…
Well, cheap thriller this ain’t, even if that does sound like the premise for a fairly pulpy piece of fiction. Thanks to some clever direction, Ma’s anxiety at the loss of his weapon becomes the audience’s problem too — the film has a nice line in forced subjectivity and this is without a doubt the ace in Lu’s hole. The more surreal moments can generally be ‘rationalised’ (or at least appreciated) within the context Ma’s confusion, and the source of his frustration never becomes so abstracted that he cannot be sympathised with. In fact, if Missing Gun has a shortcoming, it’s that it isn’t challenging enough — Lu occasionally plays it a little too safe, with the potential for the exploration of his thematic material (power and identity, searching) never being fully realised.
All in all though, this is a very solid debut from Lu Chuan that never fails to hold your attention, right up to the (completely bonkers) last frame. Too immediately accessible to be an art film, but slightly more cerebral than your average piece of mainstream entertainment, Missing Gun sits pretty comfortably within the grasp of any audience. Check it out!