Drug War (2012)

In China,
Manufacturing Over 50 Grams of METH
Will Get You the DEATH PENALTY.
Timmy Choi Has Manufactured TONS.

In acclaimed director Johnny To‘s film Drug War (2012), early on, Timmy Choi played by Louis Koo, is captured by the cops after his lab blows up killing his wife and her two brothers. Choi was also on the scene, but he survives the explosion, but his subsequent car crash into a restaurant leads to his arrest. That’s how we meet Choi.

Meanwhile, Police Captain Zhang  played by Sun Honglei is on an undercover assignment on an inter-city bus that is carrying a bunch of drug mules cross-country. Of course the mules have ingested the drug pods, and will have to expel them for the police at the hospital. This is beyond realism. almost more realistic than you might want. However, we don’t see see the actual expulsions.

But that’s how we meet the two leads.

In his interrogation, Choi is told that he will soon be executed. I don’t wanna die, he says. Is there anything I can do?

Louis Koo as Timmy Choi

Louis Koo as Timmy Choi

Of course there is. The cops want more than just Choi. They want to bring down the whole cartel. Choi is tasked with leading the cops to the heads of the cartel, and to set up a sit down with them bringing along the undercover cop as his buyer. Choi will be wearing some high-tech video and audio micro transmitters of course, and the stakes are high. Very high, or said yet another way – Choi as well as the undercover cop, Captain Zhang, were soon going to be in grave danger. Yes, the question about grave danger, first posed by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men certainly applies here – Is there any other kind?

Choi is truly between a rock and hard place. If he screws the cops, they will track him down and kill him. I shouldn’t have to say that by screwing the cartel, Choi is also signing his own death warrant.

Have a look at the trailer –

There’s your set up.

Johnnie To has long been acknowledged around the world as the pre-eminent Hong Kong film director. I’ve seen at least 21 of his films going all the ways back to 1998. I returned from Hong Kong last week with the DVD of Drug War in tow. I was unable to buy To’s most recent release, Blind Detective in Hong Kong as the DVD for this July 2013 release was sold out in at least three of the major Hong Kong retailers. But I was able to order it on eBay. Look for the review soon.

As for Drug War, it is standard Johnny To fare which means it is excellent. Excellent To means classic set pieces from the police side as well as from the drug lords. The finale is a shoot out that runs at least 15 minutes. There are plenty of violent deaths. Mr. To had established long ago that drug perps will not succeed but the police will also pay a heavy price.

I first saw this in To’s Expect the Unexpected, a 1998 release. Here, Sun Honglei’s Captain Zhang is excellent. Not only as a police commander, but also as a strategist. Beyond that, He plays not only the police captain, but as the under cover, he will have to impersonate two of the bad guys.

There are two stoned truck drivers who offer a bit of lightness to the production. Then there are 2 mute brothers who are about as deadly with weapons as anyone you’ve ever seen on film.

Sun Honglei as Captain Zhang

Sun Honglei as Captain Zhang

The police team features a couple of brave and fearless women who are superb. To has avoided what we might call stylistic choices in favor of realism. He’s moved this film out of Hong Kong completely, and all of the action takes place in Mainland China. mostly around Tianjin which is China’s 4th largest city. The setting is late fall which means the temps are on the colder side, and there’s a distinct lack of sunny blue skies. To has removed any post-card aspects of China, replacing them with a subdued palette which only adds to the realism.

We will get a look at some exciting action at the port, also the police travel twice on China’s newest high-speed bullet trains. The cops have the latest in high-tech gear – from radios, to surveillance equipment, and to undercover cameras and mikes. Over course, mobile phones add a key realistic element to the film.

Johnnie To and his production partner Wai Ka-Fai over at Milkyway Productions have given us an exciting and thrilling film. It’s gritty, violent, and can easily be called an edge of your seat thriller.

Four point zero is the rating. Amazon.com has the DVD in Region 1 format for US buyers. Or you can add the DVD to your queue from Netflix.

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