Just when the crime drama seems totally played out, Hong Kong director Johnnie To comes along with his savagely violent depiction of that genre. To’s new film Drug War, a Mainland production shot in both the wintry northern port city of Jinhai and Erzhou, a central Chinese city, has the grim, industrial feel perfect for the backdrop of this bleak story filled with guns, blood, car crashes and drugs, drugs, and more drugs.
Hong Kong filmmakers are in a new but now fairly standard commercial situation: their films need to be censor-ready and releasable on Mainland China as well as attractive to its audiences. Connecting a high body count with the drug culture apparently sends a censor-appropriate message, and if this full-throttle film fails to drive home the notion that a life of crime and drugs doesn’t pay, nothing will.
Producing fifty grams of meth in China brings on the death penalty. Drug War‘s anti-hero, Timmy Choi, has produced tons. As the film opens, a lab explosion kills his wife and brothers, and Choi, played by Hong Kong heartthrob Louis Koo, gets arrested after his car accident. Koo and Sun Honglei, the steel-veined narcotics detective Capt. Zhang Lei, carry the story through its labyrinthine plot. After a frenetic start, patient viewers soon understand who is who, and To catapults the film to a spectacular climax.
This fresh handling of crime leaves little time to breathe, and even a mad dash to the washroom or snack bar during this movie may be out of the question.
Rated NR for mature audiences.
In Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles.
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