Actor Jean-Paul Ly’s film career has been astonishing to witness and cover in the last six years or so. Having escalated from stunt performances and small acting roles to headling projects like Jailbreak and Nightshooters, the hope has always been to see him in an even bigger spotlight going forward.
Par for the course is the prospect of working with different directors. Black Site and Black Ops helmer Tom Paton often vies for a more dark and brooding appeal in his work, and this particularly goes for his new standoff thriller, 400 Bullets, boasting what reads like an exciting premise akin to the kind of classic action films fans are keen on: Heroes who are outnumbered and outgunned and have no choice to fight to survive.
Casting Andrew Lee Potts to kick things off, the film slowly ramps up to the first climatic moment our intial protagonist, military captain Noah, is left wounded and running for his life in the middle of a cold, dark desert in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, following a violent ambush of the convoy he was helping secure, containing gold bullion and several computer chips.
Wounded, Noah’s last saving grace is an empty British outpost miles away – save for the two soldiers guarding it, including Rana (Ly), a Gurkha soldier weary for his family’s financial security and well being, as he is for the internet connection he constantly has to reset on the outside. Moments after taking his post, he spots Noah and realizes the situation he’s in, then taking him into the outpost for safety, though it’s a matter of time before the enemy arrives and revealtions arise about just who it is they’re dealing with.
Between tending to his wound with Rana trekking the open fields to locate the convoy crash site for a satelite phone to hail for backup, it’s not long before Noah and Rana realize they have more on their plate than a mere armed Taliban squad in search of the chips in Noah possession. What ensues is battle of wits between soldiers and mercenaries, amidst a hail of dwindling bullets, and what their own bare knuckles and blades can take at their disposal.
400 Bullets accomplishes well enough in its exposition right down into the midway point of the film. It’s a slow starter though, and lacks a lot of punch and excitement in the gun battles at times. Things eventually pick up for the more grittier hand-to-hand moments, coupled with boosting Ly’s character as a more imminent threat the villains take notice of.
The acting is good on almost all fronts, especially with James Warren taking on all comers in the role of the traitorous Bartlett – even chewing up the scenery in an interrogation scene with Rana in a slightly more discerning performance from Ly that brings the film’s more focused honor-versus-profit-themed subtext full circle
It’s a little more than can be said in terms of the chemistry between Rana and Noah. It’s feasible at best, but largely unmemorable, which leaves the remaining task of the film’s enjoyment to the action and fight fare which should have been more prolific given the resumè of its foremost martial arts star.
I like the concept of seeing Ly as a Gurkha soldier leading the charge, as it adds a bit more pepper to the flavor in watching 400 Bullets, and it’s definitely something the film needed more of. It’s certainly a way better showing of Ly’s talents than his previous stint on the cluttered spectacle that was I Am Vengeance 2.
On its merits though, the 400 Bullets conserves way too much of its arsenal here. Depending on how well it resonates to the viewer, it follows the rules and colors within the lines enough, more or less, to be a worthwhile and rentable action thriller right down to the final shot.
400 Bullets releases on Blu-Ray and DVD from Shout! Factory on March 2.