You Shoot, I Shoot

English Title: You Shoot, I Shoot

Country of Origin: China

Studio: Golden Harvest

Director: Pang Ho-cheung

Producer(s): Raymond Chow, Pang Ho-cheung, Vincent Kok

Screenplay: Pang Ho-cheung, Vincent Kok

Cinematographer: O Sing-pui

Art Director: Bill Lui

Editor: Wenders Li

Runtime: 95 minutes

Genre: Comedy

Year: 2001

Synopsis:

Bart, dressed à la Alain Delon in Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967), works hard to appear a slick assassin, but is regularly put in his place by a slumping economy which has him playing a door-to-door salesman, negotiating prices for hits and cold-calling potential clients. Business is so bad that Bart takes up a special assassination request that requires him to film a hit as he carries it out. After a botched attempt at filming it himself, Bart decides to hire a New York Film Academy-trained assistant director named Chuen to tape his killings. As long as they can differentiate their product in a cramped economy, Bart and Chuen secure contract after contract, culminating in an increasingly-complicated hit commissioned by the mob.


Critique:

Hong Kong cinema had not seen anything quite like Pang Ho-cheung’s You Shoot, I Shoot. As a declaration of a young, hip independent voice, it was unlike anything since Cecille Tang Shu Shuen’s The Arch (1970) or Tsui Hark’s The Butterfly Murders (1979). As a black comedy, it was pretty much in a league of its own. Though it does have some of Hong Kong’s characteristic broad comedy (mostly through the parody genre and through association with star Eric Kot), You Shoot, I Shoot has more in common with juvenile comedy from the West, with its pot humour and Tarantino-esque indulgence in zany violence. The film itself is one extended pun on the English word ‘shoot,’ referring to firing a gun, filming a scene, and much more subtly, ejaculating. Collectively, the three represent a postmodern take on frat-boy antics, a sensibility that would continue to mark Pang’s later works, though with varying degrees of self-reflexivity.

That You Shoot, I Shoot is also a clever commentary on post-financial crisis Hong Kong – the struggling film industry in particular – only makes the hijinks even more hilarious. In the film, the hitman business is sinking. Killers offer discount cards and come up with enticing slogans (‘the more you kill, the more you save!’). In-laws request family discounts on killings. The movie business is just as bad. Everything is run by gangsters and pornographers, and creativity is at a standstill. The only artistic outlet for an aspiring film-maker is in collaborating on commissioned works of real-life assassination. The creative juices triggered by artistic freedom actually lead to a modicum of financial success, and in one of the film’s most hilarious sequences, we see the film-maker and the assassin upgrading their film equipment and blocking elaborate scenes with Lego pieces. In a world where everything is a media event and every job requires an audio-visual pitch, it is not enough for the assassin to shoot a video. He must shoot it well: it must be polished and channel Martin Scorsese. You Shoot, I Shoot is particularly perceptive about the fact that in such an environment, the ability to package a job is often more important than doing the job well to begin with.

Meanwhile, You Shoot, I Shoot takes pleasure in the miseries of underemployment by comically demythologizing the assassination and film businesses. ‘You’ve never seen me eat,’ says Alain Delon in a dream sequence that leads the killer Bart to realize that being an assassin is not all glamour. ‘Killers wear PJs too,’ says Bart’s wife. The sheer mundaneness of being a killer-for-hire is made funny in Godardian down-time, as when Bart has dinner with his crazy in-laws. Film-makers have it worse. They are kicked around by their superiors and resort to drug dealing to pay the bills.

Life is only redeemed by the presence of beautiful, sexually-available women, in this case a Japanese actress the director ‘saves’ from porn. After You Shoot, I Shoot, Pang specialized in comedies of men’s idealism about women (AV [2005], Trivial Matters [2007]) and men’s absolute fear of women (Men Suddenly in Black [2003], Exodus [2007]). You Shoot, I Shoot is definitely in the former category, and for all of its cleverness about Hong Kong society, its borderline-misogynistic take on female subservience reminds us that the film is, at heart, an adolescent male fantasy. In fact, it is precisely that adolescent energy that inspires Pang to play his tricks and unleash them with so much inspiration. The film’s hilarious animated title sequence captures that energy best. Assassination is mass-produced, and decapitations and groin attacks get their own corporate logo. With You Shoot, I Shoot, Pang Ho-cheung proclaims himself CEO of commercial mischief in Hong Kong.

Author of this review: Brian Hu