The Runaway Pistol (2002)

Directed by
Reviewed by Simon on 2024-01-14

A tour of "modern" Hong Kong, told from the perspective of a gun as it changes hands multiple times - each step on its journey taking it deeper into the grimiest parts of a broken society.

The gun starts out in the hands of a hapless immigrant, who has it for unspecified reasons. He needs cash so he sells it to a young Triad who has been tasked with finding one by his dai lo, but he loses it during a drug-fuelled detour through a brothel. It then spends some time with a sex worker and her abusive boyfriend, and later finds its way into the hands of a young child. After a brief holiday in the belly of a fish it makes a splash in an impoverished island community before making its way to some low level criminals in Shenzhen.

The film is a hyper-black comedy, but the emphasis is firmly on the black. The grimy, experimental visual style leaves you feeling quite filthy by the end - the moments of dark humour hardly leavening the tone but adding a touch of absurdity.

It came out in quite a dark time for Hong Kong, the economy having cratered after the 1997 handover and the film industry in particular being a hollowed out shell of its former glory. The film captures the sense of desperation and hopelessness that was in the air at the time.

The gun's perspective on events reminds us that a gun itself is not a moral agent, it merely bears witness to the darkness it encounters. It sees some of the worst that people have to offer the world, though it suggests that it is loss of connection to each other that leaves people in that state - what we become when we treat each other more like objects than people.

As an indie film produced by Andy Lau's Teamwork Pictures the film has quite a lot of leeway for experimentation, with a mix of media and presentation techniques. Wilson Yip and Soi Cheang both appear in the cast, with director Lam Wah-Chuen having worked with both as a cinematographer.