The Missing Gun


posted to on May 9, 2005


Now available in DVD, "The Missing Gun" tells the story of a small town Chinese cop who loses his gun. As with other neorealist films coming out of China like "Not One Less" or "Blind Shaft," this is a China of losers, not upwardly mobile characters of the sort featured in Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat."


Policeman Ma Shen (Wen Jiang) has woken up with a bad hangover and the frightening realization that he can't find his service revolver. In China, cops are held responsible for their guns to the extent that a missing gun can result in a loss of a job and even jail time. His search for the gun assumes the dramatic dimensions of another more famous search, namely the missing bike in Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief." Unless he can locate the gun, Ma Shen will be ruined.


The film is structured around his pursuit of some leads turned up at the wedding party for his sister the night before, where his gun was last seen. After drinking himself into a stupor, the gun was snatched from him.


One can easily understand why Ma Shen would drink himself into oblivion. His life does not offer too much. His wife constantly berates him for being a lousy husband and father to their young son, who is the brat of the century. When his wife and son come to visit him after he has been jailed, the son practically gloats over his loss of freedom and warns him that he should not interfere with his right to watch television if he is released. As with practically everything that comes his way, Ma Shen reacts to his son's taunts impassively.


Indeed, the only thing that seems to stir him is the mission to regain his weapon. Although traditional values seem to be disappearing rapidly in China, the cops are deadly serious about the question of guns in the wrong hands. With its characteristically dry humor, "The Missing Gun" includes a scene in which the police chief lectures his subordinates about the dangers presented by Ma Shen's missing weapon. Even though it only has 3 bullets, a good shot could kill six people with it since a properly aimed weapon can kill two people at once (shades of the Warren Commission!)


The cops are typical products of the new China. When the subject of bonuses comes up, the chief questions whether material incentives would erode their Úlan. He answers his own question by claiming that it is good to accept them, since they were sponsored by the Communist Party. The film is characterized by a kind of ambivalence about the changes taking place in the country today. We discover that the only true bonds of solidarity exist between Ma Shen and several old friends from the village who were at the wedding party and who were in the Red Army with them. For them, the Red Army was the one time in their life when they felt like they were really capable of self-respect.


The symbol of the New China is Zhou Xiaogang (Shi Liang), who runs an illegal liquor factory. Zhou drives around in a fancy Japanese sedan and wears Italian designer suits. When Ma Shen grabs him by the lapels to extract information, Zhou cries out "Italian, Italian!"


Director Chuan Lu makes the most of on-location settings of labyrinthine alleys and empty plazas that evoke De Chirico paintings. He also uses the surrounding mountainous countryside to great effect. One scene involves a mad bicycle chase between Ma Shen and a fleeing criminal (who might have stolen his gun) across a Chinese countryside that is as beautiful despite its sense of desolation.


"The Missing Gun" is an interesting look at China today. Now available at local video stores, it is well worth watching despite its refusal to conform to conventional expectations about cops and robbers. Perhaps that is what makes it all the more interesting.