On Amazon for $2.99.
Ma Shan is woken up by his wife, who is upset that their young son has written what she deems to be a pornographic story. Ma Shan, perhaps more than a bit hungover, starts to read the story with absolutely no interest or concern for the content when he realizes that his police-issued pistol is not in its holster. He springs into actionâ€¦and starts beating on his son. His wife is now angry at him,Â having wantedÂ their son to merely get a stern talking to. Without really telling either of them why he is so upset, Ma Shan leaves. He goes to the police station in his small village. The gun is not there. He decides to go on a quest to retrace his steps from the night before. Hopefully he will find the gun before his director finds out that it had gone missing in the first place.
As he goes on his quest, bits and pieces of the story are revealed. Ma Shanâ€™s sister, Ma Juan, got married the previous day, and he got roaring drunk at the ceremony. His reasoning for being in uniform and having the gun was that there was a criminal on the loose, but then maybe he should not have gotten drunk at the wedding. The movie kind of skirts around the fact that the protagonist was drunk with a gun, but no matter. The point is that he got really drunk at the wedding and got taken home in a taxi. He reasons that the gun went missing at some point either during the wedding or the ride home.
Already off to a shaky start by aggressively frisking his own son, Ma Shan goes to pester his sister and new brother-in-law over who was at the party. He then goes onto interrogate other people who were either at the party or involved with taking him home: the restaurant owner, a poor war buddy, a rich businessman. With each of them, he tries to be coy about why he is talking to them about the night before.
Unfortunately, Ma Shan cannot keep this mishap a secret from his director, who gets extremely upset and practically suspends him then and there. For the director, Ma Shan losing his gun could have national repercussions, as the gun could somehow make its way from their middle-of-nowhere village to Beijing. And since there are three whole bullets in the gun, a professional assassin could theoretically kill six people. Now, one might be inclined to ask why the gun had only three bullets in it in the first place or why this hypothetical professional assassin would not already have had a fully loaded gun, but one is probably not worried about getting arrested for asking such questions. So, the search is on.
I had this film scheduled months before the shooting of the two cops in New York City. Is it necessarily appropriate to talk about this movie mere days after the funeral for a Chinese-American police officer? Maybe not. However, a police chief in Georgia â€œaccidentallyâ€ shot his wife while she was sleeping, so there is that.
Anyone going into this hoping for some pulpy mystery or heartpounding action movie will be disappointedâ€¦or maybe pleasantly surprised at this little dark comedy. The movie is not so much about who stole the gun or why. It is more about the lengths a man will go to correct a mistake before the more severe consequences catch up to him. Sometimes, he tries to maintain his cool and sense of authority, but there are times when he descends into fits of manic desperation. Some have criticized the occasional use of fast cuts and high-speed footage as being unnecessarily MTV-esque, but I found it to be a nice little visual representation of Ma Shanâ€™s frantic mindset. It is also somewhat humorous when the narrative comes to a screeching halt without warning as Ma Shan also has to switch gears mentally. Ma Shan is desperate to retain his dignity and status, saving face if you will. Logic and even his own sense of self-preservation can take a backseat to his need to redeem himself.
It is extremely difficult to get a hold of a gun in China, so the gun in this story has special significance. It is not simply a symbol of Ma Shanâ€™s manhood, though there may be a little bit of that in the movie. It is also a symbol of his power and authority; it sets him in an elite group of people in the village. The director was about to award him for being the best police officer until he admitted that his gun had gone missing. Having lost his gun, he has lost his reputation and risks losing his power. The power goes to this gun, which is as much a symbol to the characters as it is to the film. While the directorâ€™s description of a professional killer using it to kill six people may come across as humorously exaggerated, the issue is more of perception than reality or likelihood. Ma Shan losing his symbol of power has upset the status quo and could compromise the power of all the people in power. Ma Shanâ€™s struggle to find his gun is just to prevent a murder or to redeem himself, but to avoid the wrath of an easily threatened State.
At the same time, Ma Shanâ€™s actions could be seen as reflecting that of a paranoid State that is desperate to maintain control and power, even when the source of that power is gone. Ma Shan tries to keep it secret that his gun is missing for as long as he can, although there is a fakeout near the beginning where he admits that the gun is missing to his directorâ€™s empty chair. He does not say that he is looking for his gun when initially talking to people. He may not have the symbol of his power, but he comes down on people as if he still does. Does his gun or his uniform imbue him with authority and legitimacy if he can still fill people with fear and confusion without them? Is it all in the mind? A social construct? Who is he if not his gun and uniform? What is the legitimacy of law?
Ma Shan will go after anyone, whether that person is rich, poor, an old friend, or a member of his own family. He is like a one-man Cultural Revolution. When he does finally admit that his gun is gone, Ma Shan insists that he did not lose. it, but that it is merely missing. To say that he lost it or that someone stole it suggests that he is irresponsible or that someone got the better of him; for it to be missing seems more ambigiously neutral and reflects less badly on him. At least, he has tried to convince himself of that. Again, it is a matter of saving face, not making sense. If he has no power over anything else, at least he has to control the language of parts of the narrative, at least until he can no longer even do that. Or maybe that is just my decadent Western revisionist interpretation.
The gun may not necessarily symbolize Ma Shanâ€™s sexual potency, but it may reflect his peace of mind and his life in general. The day before his gun went missing, his sister got married. It is unclear whether he approves or disapproves of his new brother-in-law, but one could assume that he was fine with the match. Maybe. The next day, however, his life completely falls apart. Either that or the problems that were already present in his life start to manifest more obviously. His son is a bit of a brat, perhaps one of the members of Chinaâ€™s â€œLittle Emperorâ€ generation. Things with his wife are a little uncertain, but things get worse when it is revealed that Ma Shanâ€™s ex-flame, Xiaomeng, has returned to the village and is living with that rich and somewhat shady businessman. Whether or not the gun made him feel complete, its absence has made issues of his unhappiness come to the foreground. His search for the gun is not just to save face, not just to save someone elseâ€™s life, and not just to save his own life; it is also perhaps an attempt to give his life the semblance of order.
The Missing Gun is hardly the first movie to deal with a copâ€¦having his gun go missing. Stray Dog did it in 1949 andÂ 48 Hrs did it in 1982. Still, this film is definitelyÂ its own thing, and I quite recommend it.
Next Time: Jakarta (South Korea, approx. 90 minutes)
Available on Viki.com
Time After Next: Barah Aana (India: 2009, approx. 90 minutes)
Available on Yuutube.com and Dailymotion.com