Review: You Shoot, I Shoot (2001)

The unfiltered madness on display in You Shoot, I Shoot is something that could only exist in Hong Kong cinema. This isn’t because the film is technically strange or radically innovative. It’s because the film flies in the face of any and all formalistic conventions. It’s crazy and raw and fresh in ways you’d never see an American picture be—even a radically independent one.

Just like the main characters who are obsessed with Martin Scorsese and Alain Delon, the filmmakers admire and respect the conventions of mainstream cinema. But the way this film plays out, and the completely non-moralistic stance it takes towards the actions of its characters, makes it the opposite of anything Hollywood would ever consider making.

Pang Ho-Cheung’s debut feature follows the hitman Bart (Eric Kot) and his bizarre methods of assassination. Strapped for cash, he starts taking jobs from wealthy Hong Kong wives, who have inexhaustible lists of people they consider worthy of death for slights they believe to have suffered. Hitch is, these wives want Bart to record the hits so they can watch the video and take pleasure in the death of their enemies.

Of course, Bart has no idea how to shoot a movie. In his solo attempts to film his first hit, he straps the camera to his shoulder. What follows is a perverse version of first-person shooter, where Bart enters the apartment of his target and cowers behind the couch before killing the man after a dizzying shootout. The scene is designed to show that a real first-person view of a shootout would be incoherent and bizarre—not as cool as all the video games we enjoy.

Bart finds a solution in Cheun (Tat-Ming Cheung), an aspiring filmmaker stuck as a third assistant director on porn films. Cheun idolizes Martin Scorsese (a poster of Bringing Out the Dead of all films hangs in his apartment) just as Bart idolizes Alain Delon in Le Samourai. Initially he blackmails Cheun into helping him, but soon Cheun realizes Bart’s kill list offers him the creative control he never gets in the real film industry. The two bond, in classic movie fashion, and thrive off each other’s partnership. Bart becomes Cheun’s leading man, and Cheun becomes the director he always dreamed of being.

You Shoot, I Shoot is at its most dynamic in its many assassination scenes. As Bart and Cheun become better at filming the killings, they make the filmmaking more dynamic. They often strap a camera rig to their victims, making them run away while they chase with guns blazing. Although the chase is redundant—they’ve already got the victim at this point—Cheun thinks it necessary to make their films more interesting. These moments are You Shoot, I Shoot's commentary on the appeal of fictional reality comes into play.

Francois Truffaut once said cinema is an improvement on life. Cheun fully believes this. The rich wives don’t want reality in the films Bart and Cheun make. The reality looks like Bart’s shoulder-cam video: incoherent and mundane. They want reality as Cheun is able to portray it: full of smooth camera work, crisp editing and emotional manipulation. That You Shoot, I Shoot was shot before reality television invaded the international marketplaces shows Pang’s knack for getting at the root of humanity's preference for faux-reality over the real world. He's not merely commenting on fads of the time.

You Shoot, I Shoot was shot on the cheap, with Pang using his contacts in the Hong Kong film industry to lure famous actors and directors in cameo parts or acquire equipment for the more complicated scenes; he was a successful screenwriter before he moved onto directing. You can notice the lack of resources in the film's unrefined visual style. Yet, for all its formal brazenness, necessitated by the film’s meager budget, it dips into familiar wells of story convention. A subplot involving Cheun’s infatuation with a Japanese porn actress, Michiko (Asuka Higuchi), stalls the film’s breathless momentum with the familiar routine of the loser getting the hot girl.

But these small detours do little to distract from the bizarre energy and humour of You Shoot, I Shoot as a whole. It’s a messy film, as most directorial debuts are, but it confirms that Pang Ho-Cheung was a talent worth watching from the get-go.

7 out of 10

You Shoot, I Shoot (2001)

Directed by Pang Ho-Cheung; written by Vincent Kok and Pang Ho-Cheung; starring Eric Kot, Tat-Ming Cheung, and Asuka Higuchi.