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After losing control of his car and crashing into a local restaurant, a man loses consciousness on the street. Later, while working on a case, the police's anti-drug division captain, Zhang Lei (Honglei Sun), realizes that the man in the crash is drug lord Tian Ming (Louis Koo). In order to avoid the death penalty, Tian Ming helps the police put a stop to the entire drug trafficking circuit, but just as soon as the police are ready to make a large bust, Tian Ming makes a decision that shocks everyone involved. Written by
A solid and taut, if ultimately shallow, action thriller
I'm not terribly familiar with Johnnie To's work, though I know he is one of China's biggest directors. Drug War is his latest film, a critically hailed masterpiece, so to speak, that rivals some of the best American crime films. And for the most part, it is a very good film. Gripping, with a tight rope plot written like a maze, Drug War very rarely lets up as it navigates from one stage of the plot to the other.
The film opens with Timmy Choi, a drug manufacturer, driving erratically until he runs through the entrance of a restaurant until he ends up in the hands of Captain Zhang. For dealing the amount of drugs that Choi is responsible for, the penalty is death, but Choi cuts a deal to help the police bring down a drug lord responsible for the sale of the narcotics. What follows is a near non-stop mission to get into the heart of the drug dealers and bring them down.
Drug War is the kind of crime action thriller that is very audience pleasing. There is plenty of suspense and mystery, as you're always on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what will happen next. It doesn't help that you're never quite sure who to trust or who will do what, especially Choi, who remains shifty and unsure. Sun Honglei is especially entertaining as the no nonsense Zhang, whose smart and constantly does his best to stay one step ahead of all those he's trying to bring down, including Choi. The writing for the film is very intricate and full of surprises. Coupling this are several action set pieces, the highlight of which are a middle section involving the police and two very capable partners of Choi and the ending, which is an absolutely crazy finale for this film.
If I have one real complaint about the film, it's the lack of depth. For all the technical skill and excellent writing and plot, we really don't get to know any of our characters. There is an attempt to make Choi somewhat sympathetic through a plot point about his wife, but Choi himself never really does much to make us like him or get us on his side. The same can be said about Zhang, who is little more than a hard nose cop trying to catch the criminals. There's never any real insight into either of these men, let alone the rest of the cast. It's a very basic and shallow cops and criminals tale, albeit, a very well written and produced one.
But these are minor complaints in the face of the entertainment at hand. This is arguably one of the best films of 2013, even at it's rating, and I urge anyone looking for to make up for some theatrical thuds to check this out. It's well worth it.
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