By Mei Zhan
Let me begin with a fiction. Let the Bullets Fly, a Chinese “action comedy,” was wildly popular upon its release in 2010. Witty, gory, at times bawdy, and determinedly absurd, the plot centered around the confrontation between Zhang Mazi, a fictitious Chinese Robin Hood impersonating a county governor (whom, upon being captured by Zhang, impersonated the governor’s secretary in order to survive) and his nemesis Master Huang, a mobster boss who turned out to have a body double. The opening scenes of the film featured what appeared to be a steam-engine train, only to reveal a few seconds later that the train was pulled along the rail tracks by horses and the white steam arose from an impossibly large hotpot around which the governor and his entourage were dining and singing. Zhang and his bandits took aim and fired several shots. As the train continued roaring on, one bandit asked, “Did we miss?” Zhang calmly replied, “Let the bullets fly for a while”. Neither horse nor train was hit. But the train soon stopped as the horse reins came undone.
Although unable to pin down the historical and allegorical references in the film, many Chinese viewers understand it to be a political satire. They marvel at the fact that it not only circumvented government censorship, but also generated a slew of catchphrases widely used in everyday discourse. “Let the bullets fly for a while” in particular has acquired an effervescent afterlife on Chinese social media, which is saturated with sensational news of all natures and scales: natural and human-made disasters, political scandals, abuse of police power, medical malpractice and violence against doctors and nurses, illegal trade and consumption of wild life, celebrity extramarital affairs, and so forth. These dramatic events often unfold through multiple rounds of disguises, revelations, and revisions.