Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lu Chuan’s The Missing Gun and the General Absence of Guns in the Hands of Private Citizens in China


Way back in August, I wrote a piece called “In Japan, it’s Evidently Easier to Build a Gun from Scratch Thank it is to Buy One.” I wrote this in response to several high-profile shooting incidents that took place over the summer (the movie theater shooting in Colorado, the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, and an incident in New York in which the police shot like ten people while trying to take down one gun-toting lunatic).  All this crazy American shootery had called to mind Shinya Tsukamoto’s film Bullet Ballet, about a mentally unhinged young man’s efforts to get his hands on a gun.  I stated at the time that this movie could never be remade in the US, because what takes half the film to accomplish in the Japanese context (which is to say, the acquisition of a gun) would take maybe five minutes of screen time in an American movie.  The guy would go into a gun store and come back five days later and walk out with his gun (or he’d get hold of it immediately if he bought it at a gun show or through a private sale).

Well, following the Newtown Massacre, America’s gun nuttery has been back in the news lately (and I’m sure it will slip out of the news again sooner or later, and the government will accomplish precisely nothing in relation to gun control).  What didn’t get as much attention as the Newtown massacre was an incident that took place in China on the same day.  In the village of Chenpeng, a lunatic came into the local kindergarten armed with a knife and began stabbing students willy-nilly.  He stabbed a total of twenty-four of them, which is appalling, but not a single one of them died, in contrast to the Newtown massacre, in which twenty children were killed.  The difference in the death toll can be attributed to the fact that it’s far harder to kill people with a knife than it is with a semi-automatic rifle.  Now, had the Chenpeng lunatic had a gun, who knows what kind of damage he could have inflicted.  But he didn’t, thank Christ, because China doesn’t hold private gun ownership to be a right that trumps every other right, including the right to go to a school or a movie theater without having to worry about getting blown away by a nut-job (I am well aware that these incidents are relatively rare in the US, but they’re even rarer in China, or Japan, so clearly the situation can be improved).

Now, I’m somewhat reluctant to hold up the Chinese legal system as an exemplar of anything (one may recall Ségolène Royale’s praise of the efficiency of their judiciary during the French presidential elections of 2007; pretty much everybody agreed that that was a catastrophically stupid thing for her to have said).  But it’s not just China that puts serious impediments in the way of private gun ownership; freer countries with a tradition of the rule of law—Japan and the United Kingdom come to mind as prominent examples—have similar prohibitions (I don’t know if they still do this, but your average British cop on the beat generally didn’t carry a gun).

Oh right, this is supposed to be a movie blog.  Well, I just saw Lu Chuan’s first film, 2002’s The Missing Gun, which stars Jiang Wen (the director of Devils on the Doorstep and the recent—and seriously overrated, to my mind—Let the Bullets Fly) as a small-town cop who loses his gun following a drunken wedding reception.  Now, there are several distinctly un-American things that happen as a result of this.  First off, there’s a huge to-do within the police force, to think that a private citizen has hold of a gun.  Think of what they could do with it!  In a small town in the US, every other person is probably packing heat, but Jiang’s missing gun introduces an unknown element into the town.  And then, when somebody finally gets shot with it, we know immediately that it’s Jiang’s gun, because where else could it come from? Nobody else has a gun.

A few parallels to other films should be noted.  First, Jiang’s character stumbles upon a fake gun while arresting a thief, which seems to do nothing but discharge soot when fired.  This is reminiscent of the gun that Shinya Tsukamoto’s character builds for himself in Bullet Ballet, and which ends up packing less punch than a pellet gun.  Both the Chinese thief and Tsukamoto’s character only find out that their guns are defective after trying to fire them in real-life situations.  It should also be noted that the premise of The Missing Gun is pretty much the same as that of Akira Kurosawa’s 1949 film, Stray Dog, in which a policeman played by Toshiro Mifune has his gun stolen and embarks on a desperate bid to get it back.  Here we have a similar situation where people get shot with his gun, and apparently there are so few guns in circulation that it’s not too far-fetched to assume right off the bat that Mifune’s gun is the gun in question.  Stray Dog is arguably Kurosawa’s first masterpiece, and where it pummels the viewer with straight-up noir tragedy, Lu’s film approaches matters from a more darkly comedic angle (although things are still deadly serious, and he strikes balance of comedy and tragedy that’s similar to that achieved in Jiang Wen’s dark WWII “comedy,” the aforementioned Devils on the Doorstep).

Well anyway, thank God our second amendment rights haven’t been abridged yet.  We don’t languish under the yoke of a gun-prohibiting tyranny like they do in communist China.  Or South Korea.  Or the United Kingdom.  Or Japan.

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