At is core, Bang Bang is the story of a friendship at the crossroads amid gangster culture in California. As musically-inclined Justin (Thai Ngo) seems to be moving away from his drug-dealing, gangbanging days, his best friend Charlie (David Huynh) seems to be heading full speed into that world. While Justin comes from poverty and has only ever known this lifestyle, Charlie comes from money and has spent his time idolizing the gangs, and building up in his mind what it means to fit in.
Of course, that’s the problem as most see him as the “rich kid poser,” so Charlie has to apply himself a little bit more than most. If someone is going to throw a punch to set off a brawl, it’s Charlie. If someone is going to make sure everyone is strapped with guns, it’s Charlie. Meanwhile even the gang’s leader, Rocky (Walter Wong), is lamenting his status and inability to step away from the lifestyle, making Charlie’s need to climb the ranks that much more tragic, especially when events turn increasingly more violent as an all-out gang war erupts.
While that story of friendship is the core thread, the film sprinkles many other narratives along the way, such as a blossoming relationship for Justin, Justin’s other friend’s problems in his abusive and dysfunctional family home and Rocky’s aforementioned desire to walk away. While the overall narrative is linear, the film presents itself in a very immersive fashion, where the audience experiences events as if they were there, standing off to the side while everything takes place in front of them. It causes an immediacy and intimacy to the film that might not otherwise exist, had the film been shot in a more distant way.
And lest you think this is just another film where actors put on tough-guy attitudes and do their best to posture their way through some glamorized portrayal of gang life, it is anything but. There is an authenticity to the tale that is disturbing, and the violence is something that is always seemingly on-deck, waiting for the wrong words or the wrong glance to set it off. And since each act of anger just begets another, everything just keeps escalating more and more.
If you don’t give it a chance, it would be easy to draw dismissive, derivative comparisons to Boyz n the Hood, though with that film being an absolute classic, any reference, even derivative or dismissive, isn’t all that insulting. Still, that’s not the case here. Again, this isn’t just a case of a film trying to be like something that came before it. Bang Bang is its own tale, and it’s told well.
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