Drug War (2012) Poster

(2012)

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7/10
A solid and taut, if ultimately shallow, action thriller
cadillac2020 October 2013
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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8/10
Infiltrating the drug lords - but which side is our man on?
joebloggscity11 January 2015
So which side is our man on? That's the question in this drug mafia movie where the police have found a way to take down a major drug crew, but have to use one of their key arrests to help them. However, who is he playing for and with? This is a clever and ambitious little movie. Well directed and acted, this film takes influence from others in the genre (such as The Wire) but maps out its own story, and it's really interesting.

The Far East has a rich history of mafia movies, and this isn't amongst the classics, but that doesn't devalue it. It still is a fine film, with good directing and acting. Some interesting characters too.

Very much worth watching.
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8/10
Taut and gripping from start to finish, Johnnie To's intricately choreographed procedural of a complex anti-narcotics operation pulsates with a gritty and realistic feel
moviexclusive13 April 2013
For the uninitiated, 'Drug War' marks acclaimed Hong Kong director Johnnie To's first crime thriller to be shot in Mainland China, an understandably wary prospect considering how his usual sensibilities in the genre are highly likely to run afoul of the Chinese censors. But fans of the auteur can rest easy – To is as sharp as he has ever been here reuniting with his regular screenwriter and producer Wai Kar-Fai, delivering a tense and engrossing procedural around a complex anti-drug trafficking police operation.

To be sure, the subject matter is an extremely risky one – after all, the tough stance that the country has adopted towards drugs means that the authorities are only going to scrutinise a movie about that hot- button topic very, very closely. It is therefore somewhat of a miracle that To manages to remain politically correct without ever being preachy, and even better, to mirror the authorities' no-nonsense approach while offering the kind of nail-biting entertainment perfectly accessible to mainstream audiences.

But then again, we should have expected no less from To, and right from the get-go, we are treated to both Wai Kar-Fai's elegant storytelling and To's classy direction. Cross-cutting seamlessly between two seemingly unrelated series of events, To introduces his audience to Louis Koo's Timmy Choi, who is seen driving away from a factory billowing in smoke while foaming at the mouth, gradually losing consciousness until finally he crashes in spectacular fashion through the glass walls of a restaurant. Meanwhile, Sun Honglei's Zhang is on a dilapidated bus going through a toll booth, whose commuters are really mules transporting drug-packed ovules within their body.

When his partner-in-crime panics after their overheated bus pulls to the side just after crossing the booth, Zhang reveals himself to be no less than the very captain of the narcotics squad. At the same hospital where Zhang and the other drug mules painfully excrete their smuggled goods, Zhang runs into an unconscious Choi, covered in skin lesions and bearing the unmistakable whiff of a drug-making operation. Immediately, Choi is put into surveillance, but Choi's identity only becomes clearer when he is brought into questioning, turning surprisingly compliant as he tells Zhang that he is but a middleman between a rich businessman turned drug dealer Boss HaHa (Hao Ping) and a powerful supplier named Uncle Bill.

Even then, Choi remains an enigma – we're sceptical of his plea to escape the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation – and yet a cautious alliance emerges between the tough grim-faced Zhang and the persuasively suppliant Choi. Keeping the proceedings entirely realistic, To unspools the action through a series of undercover infiltrations, surveillance and stake-outs filmed with the same breakneck urgency and unnerving tension of such real-life operations. Moving from posh hotels to lavish cabaret nightclubs to busy seaports, To switches from location to location without any let-up from a consistently gripping pace.

Yet despite the breakneck pace, each sequence is tautly choreographed. Particularly effective is the pivotal setpiece in the middle section, which sees Zhang masquerading first as Uncle Bill to meet Brother HaHa and then posing as HaHa (the character's signature hysterical laugh included) to meet Uncle Bill's representative. Both close-quarter setups ripple with edge-of-your-seat tension, with Zhang's charade threatening to unravel itself under the villains' scrutiny. Also worthy of mention is the film's climactic shootout in front of an elementary school, as Choi finally reveals his hand as a cool-blooded conniver interested only in his own self-preservation. Though less violent than the usual To actioners, the action is nevertheless exhilarating in its rawness, with To subverting genre expectations of who dies and who prevails.

In true alpha-male fashion, Zhang remains an inscrutable character throughout, defined only by his doggedness when hunting down his targets. Ditto for Choi, who doesn't get any backstory to explain how or why he got into the drug business. Like 'PTU', To keeps his focus singularly on the nuts-and-bolts of the police work at hand, deliberately refusing to let his audience get to know more about any of the characters aside from their relative positions in the unfolding mission. Such a clinical approach may frustrate some viewers, but anyone who's been a fan of his trademark understatement will embrace it – along with Xavier Jameux's pulsing score – as nothing less than To's brand of cool.

Just as certain to delight fans is a nifty twist late into the story that turns the movie into a reunion of sorts for To's regulars – Lam Suet, Gordon Lam, Eddie Cheung, Lo Hoi Pang and Michelle Ye. Of course, that's not to diminish Sun Honglei and Louis Koo's strong lead performances – the former bringing gravitas and an unexpected touch of humour when imitating HaHa's over-the-top behaviour to an otherwise stoic role; and the latter playing both cunning and desperate in thoroughly engaging fashion.

And so despite the Mainland setting, 'Drug War' remains a distinctly Johnnie To movie, using the bleak wintry settings of the Mainland city of Tianjin to lend the film and its subject matter a gritty sobering feel. Eschewing the visual aesthetics of 'Exiled' and 'Sparrow', it is also easily his most commercially accessible action thriller of late, with a documentary-like realism that mirrors Derek Yee's style in another drug-themed movie 'Protége'. Like we've said, To's fans will enjoy this as much as his previous works, and this is a movie that demonstrates once again why he is easily one of the best directors in Hong Kong today.
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9/10
Meth in the Mainland
space_base8 January 2014
After his meth lab explodes, leaving him scarred and his wife dead, Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) is apprehended by the Chinese police for a crime that warrants the death penalty. In the custody of Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), Choi sees only one option to avoid execution; turn traitor and help Zhang's undercover unit bring down the powerful cartel that he has been cooking for. As the stakes get higher, it becomes increasing unclear as to who has the upper hand, and who will dictate the endgame.

Director Johnny To is a master of the crime film, and with "Drug War," he's created a near masterpiece of the genre. He never convinces us of being in anything but complete control of his multifaceted thriller, and exudes an unparallelled confidence in every scene and phenomenal set piece.

To's electrifying picture recalls some of the best work of his great contemporaries. "Drug War" possesses the technical brilliance of Scorsese's "The Departed," the ground-level knowledge and surveillance of David Simon's "The Wire," the gritty realism of Michael Mann's best work, and by the end the blistering, double-fisted action of John Woo's prime. These elements don't come together as a derivative; To is a filmmaker at the top of his game, and makes the most of his cast, his influences, the Mainland setting, and a little of the grotesquerie that often has Hollywood shuddering; in a singular whole.

Disparate from most Hong Kong action films, "Drug War" is a methodical, meticulous procedural first, exploiting a street-smart screenplay that knows the Chinese crime scene; and if that statement is indeed false, it never feels less than authentic. Much of the intensity derives from dialogue exchanges, and how rigorous both the cops and criminals try to not get made. Because of this well paced, equally well played dynamic, we never know who we should root for, and that's exactly the point. Mr. To's drama is incredibly intense... but then he pulls out all the stops.

The last 20 minutes of "Drug War" is the show-stopping action set piece of the year. An extended shootout that's brutal, ambitious, and a masterpiece of it's kind. It's a marvel of physical filmmaking that also works as an unexpected plot device, violently flipping our conceived notions of these characters on their ear; clearing the way for a fittingly ironic, ice-cold conclusion.

"Drug War" might just be the best pure crime film of 2013. Technically and narratively stellar, it already seems like a minor classic of the genre.
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10/10
A Nutshell Review: Drug War
DICK STEEL20 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Quite a bit I must say, with pros and cons which Drug War seem to be caught under that crossfire. There are a few rules that the Chinese play by, and chief to that is the morals imposed where the bad guys cannot go Scot free. So even without stepping into the cinema, or hear what this film is about, the ending is already cast in stone, which takes a little shine off the fun in being able to follow through the story, and waiting to be surprised at the finale. No matter how tight one's writing can be, it leads to that inevitable finish, so that expectation is quite the bitch.

Otherwise, China presents itself a new playground in which filmmakers can go and get their vision presented through landscapes yet to be familiar playgrounds. The filmmakers here have ventured beyond the bigger and well known cities, and opted for smaller second tier ones to present that small town, rustic look where one supposes a crime syndicate could thrive under, and operate without too much attention being paid to it. Until Louis Koo's Cai is seen driving a car in haphazard fashion, suffering from injuries yet to be explained, and setting the stage for something special from the imagination of To and long time collaborator Wai Ka-Fai. That, and a trailer that's making its rounds for a delivery of its cargo, made up of ingredients necessary for the big time production of ketamine.

Then we must be introduced to the cops, where the anti-narcotic department is given the spotlight for the film's focus on a drug syndicate. Chinese actor Sun Honglei leads the charge here as the division chief Inspector Zhang, getting introduced as a no-nonsense, hands off type of leader who walks the talk, and never shying away from being in the thick of the action when the need calls for it. In many scenes, it is Sun Honglei's charismatic presence and superb acting that made this watchable, since his character dabbles in a little bit of role play while undercover, utilizing a vast array of skills within his ability to make it convincing not only to the other characters he deals with, but to the audience as well.

The crux of the story lies in the power and cat and mouse play that both Zhang and Cai engage in, with the latter under the former's custody, and facing the mandatory death sentence if convicted. Wanting to survive, he strikes a deal with Zhang to allow him access to the bigger fish in the pond, and for Zhang, this is too big an opportunity in his career, and for the wider group of population he serves, to give up. So together with his team, they form an uneasy partnership with Cai, since trust is yet to be earned, suspicion always round the corner that Cai will bolt, and whether they're walking into a known trap set up by him. The story's kept at a steady pace by Johnnie To, keeping things quite cerebral in leaving you wondering about Cai's motivation for the most parts, especially since having to reveal that Cai is quite the slimy, street smart person going all out to ensure his survival.

And I suppose a Milkyway crime thriller isn't a Milkyway crime thriller if the usual suspects don't turn up in any capacity. With a relatively fresh faced cast from the Mainland, and with recognizable faces such as Huang Yi playing Sun Honglei's able deputy, it never really feels quite right without To's stable of actors tossed into the mix, and thankfully this is one formula that's being kept. Better yet, this version screened here kept their Cantonese dialogue intact - even Louis Koo was undubbed - and that serves as a more authentic presentation. There's Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung, Lo Hoi Pang, and Lam Ka Tung amongst others who make an appearance, and contribute where it mattered most, allowing reason for fan boys to cheer.

There's a wider subtext in the film though, dealing with Hong Kong and China, where the former group sees opportunities in making money in the Mainland, but the message is that collaboration and mutual trust is key. Should one group try to breakaway from an alliance, it serves nobody any advantage, and the outcome may be dire straits. It's an unfair alliance to begin with since there's a larger body involved compared to the smaller partner who's not given a level playing field or too much of a bargaining power, but to play within the rules set will ensure survival.

Not since Election 2 has a Johnnie To film been so direct with its metaphors and allegories, and this is what sets Drug War apart from other run of the mill crime thrillers done by other filmmakers. The Milkyway team has ventured into China with their romantic comedies to some degree of success, and they've now shown the way that crime capers also have an avenue in the mainland despite having to play by the rules set by others. This is well worth a watch despite an extended sequence that vaguely resembled something out of MI:4 Ghost Protocol, which is just as gripping as it was opportunity for Sun Honglei to showoff some acting chops, and the expected moans and groans about the ending where To delivers his usual shoot out spectacle to out-gun and outlast any John Woo picture. Recommended!
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9/10
A battle of both brain and brawn.
nokturnal-rapport13 January 2014
Gripping, smart, and a joy to watch.

The acting is excellent and the main leads are my favorite. Honglei, a hardened narcotic cop, is collected, methodological, and intelligent. You can tell he has earned his keep and has seen some crazy things behind those eyes. He's like the calm before the storm, readily break loose. He leads a high profiled operation to bust possibly the largest drug ring in the counntry and his lead is Louis, a captured meth supplier. Louis is not to be outshone: calculated, cunning, and above all, selfish. I find his character to be easily one of the greatest villains for he appears harmless but you can't really know what he has in mind. One scene you might think he has repented, another scene he might convince you otherwise. He is a great villain because he's deceptive, cunning, selfish, and he's willing to do anything for survival, including turning against his own kin but the catch is that he doesn't look capable of such evil. That's why he's great. Appearance is deceiving. The two main leads are completely opposite. The cop appears cold, distanced, and seemingly emotionless yet pursues a good cause and cares for his underlings while the crook appears warmer, more expressive, seemingly harmless yet inhuman underneath. Great contrast. The story is tight, the actions are neat - the shootout between the mute brothers and the cops and the grand finale scene are superb. A battle of both brain and brawn.
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9/10
A great movie with good acting
mbtjerome4 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This isn't a movie that is filled with insane action. This is a movie that follows a group of cops as they try to break up a drug ring with the help of a boss that they caught. the only real action is at the end of the movie the rest of the movie has some amazing performances and well written scenes. this movie is intense from start to finish with multiple characters changing sides and loyalties being tested. in the end if you want to watch this movie know that it is not an intense action movie but is still very good. still stay till the end and watch as every character comes to life. it also has some nice twists and turns to it that make this movie that is fun to watch.
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8/10
Intense, realistic police thriller
Leofwine_draca7 April 2015
Johnnie To seems to be one of the most adept directors working in Hong Kong today; in the recent fifteen years or so he's built for himself an impressive body of work, concentrating almost solely in the thriller genre. His films usually involve cops or gangsters, all of them equally tough, and his detailed plots inevitably involve lots of death, betrayal, and bloodshed.

DRUG WAR is no different; it's the third To film I've seen, and by far the best. This is a pulse-pounding thriller that moves exceptionally fast, requiring the viewer to pay close attention throughout in order to keep up with everything that transpires. To's requirement above all else is for ultra-realism, making this a low key and often subtle piece of filmmaking, and an exemplary example for Hollywood directors keen to make their wham-bang thrillers.

Louis Koo headlines the cast in an intriguing role as a leading drug dealer who's caught by the police and forced to help them bring down some even greater criminals. What this leads to is a unique and fresh-feeling storyline, one that's hard to predict throughout, with the emphasis almost entirely on suspense sequences. Most of the action is limited to the climax, which stages a tense shoot-out on an even more epic scale than the one in HEAT. It's great stuff indeed and the perfect end to a great thriller.
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9/10
Johnnie To's low-key masterpiece.
nesfilmreviews30 October 2013
Legendary director Johnnie To's "Drug War" generates a powerful suspense with extended action set-pieces that are truly exceptional, but it's the intense underplayed performances that ultimately leaves its lasting impression. To pulls out all the stops in this high-octane police procedural, shot predominantly in the Jinshan district on the Chinese mainland. This vast, operatic melodrama exhibits some extreme smarts in its bare bones approach to a drug unit's relentless pursuit of a drug cartel. The film proceeds with sequences that establish the war on drugs as neither a heroic crusade, or a hopelessly unwinnable war. They are no metaphors here -- it's a world where people make choices, and as a result, events unfold simply as a matter of process.

Manufacturing just fifty grams of meth in China will earn you a death sentence, and Timmy Choi (Louis Koo), manufactures on a massive scale. After a large meth lab explosion, Choi is under arrest and in the custody of Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei). Now he has only one chance to avoid execution: turn informant and help Zhang's undercover team take down the powerful cartel. As the uneasy allies must compress months of police work into just 72 sleepless hours, the increasingly desperate police are quickly stretched past their limits. As things spin wildly out of control, the line between duty and recklessness becomes vague, and it becomes unclear who truly has the upper hand.

The first act of "Drug War" is an epic manifestation of To's talents: The camera is never in the wrong place, and we're swept effortlessly into the mindsets of a dozen people in the first act with few words or wasted gestures. The film works thanks to the riveting performances of Sun Honglei and Louis Koo. In addition to his two strong leads, To creates a large gallery of dynamic supporting characters, most notably two mute brothers played by Guo Tao and Li Jing who at first appear as comic relief, but eventually play a larger role in the story.

The balancing act of the film relies on a long build-up for a large payoff. Director To incorporates just enough action and throughout to keep things interesting before the chaotic, bloody onslaught erupts in the third act. The visceral, brutal shoot-out between opposing sides takes place on a suburban street filled with pedestrians and children. It's intense and unflinching, with a fantastically dark resolution to the story. "Drug War" isn't particularly insightful or a profound viewing experience, but those looking for a top-notch thriller will be more than satisfied by this low-key masterpiece.
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8/10
My first Johnnie To film
ronchow8 October 2013
I have to confess here in Canada I have no previous exposure to films by Hong Kong directors Johnnie To. Obviously he has done good work before but I just did not have the chance to see them. 'Drug War' was shown in a local art-house cinema and my like-minded friend alerted me to it.

Well, this was an interesting film experience - a Hong Kong director doing a police/drug dealer drama based in mainland China. Although other fictitious names were used for the cities, it is obvious the final, major shootout took place in a main street in Tianjin, a large city not far from Beijing. And much has been said about the long, protracted shoot-out scene toward the end, done in the John-Woo-ish manner.

I do not know if the version shown in mainland China - apparently the film did well in the box office there - is the same version that I saw in Canada. However, I suspected the China version has to be slightly edited. Still, (Spoiler Alert!) Johnnie To managed to get a film approved for the Chinese audience despite breaking one important rules: four desperadoes gunning down a large number of police officers, male and female. Now this used to be a big no-no in China. The police had to come up on top and the bad guys punished. The mass killing of cops was never presented to any screen in Chinese cinema. And then there is the lesser scene of RMB (Chinese currency) bills being burnt in place of 'ghost money' to honour the dead. Now this may just be part of drama but one can also argue about its possible political significance.

All in all, for a cops-against-bad-guys film this is well directed, with action scenes well staged and the cops and criminals well portrayed. There are also finer moments exploring humanity - e.g. a drug dealer's wife, fatally shot, still struggled to put her high-heel boots back on while dodging bullets. The ending is a tad depressing but is mostly likely closer to reality.
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8/10
Crystal Meth in China
motezart13 August 2013
The drab, dusty, industrial backdrop of what is purported as the unglamorous metropolis of Tian Jin, China, tacky haute facades are the setting for Drugs War's series of raw, tension filled episodes. From a country riddled with censorship, Drugs Wars, a film by Johnnie To, is an unbridled glimpse of organized crime and crystal meth in China. Although perhaps a tad sensationalistic, the film delivers a bold statement: the Chinese the drug market is alive and well.

Louis Koo plays a busted crystal meth baron who has a choice, either help police bust a massive organized crime syndicate, or be executed. He chooses to help police.

In an elaborate tireless scheme, actor Honglei Sun dazzlingly plays a police officer portraying a criminal in the attempt to infiltrate this upper echelon syndicate. The best scene of the film is when Sun's character is forced to rail two massive lines of crystal meth as part of this act. The effects of the meth play out into a powerful piece of cinema. Post- OD, literally having come back from the edge death, the chase for the criminals continues with out a flinch.

At times this police tenacity is too exaggerated to be believable. The chase for the bad guys goes on endlessly for days. None of the cops ever eat or sleep. They seem to have inexhaustible resources at their disposal. They are able to commandeer an entire harbor just to put on a show of authenticity for the crooks. The cops risk their lives over and over, and for what? To rid the world of a few truckloads of drugs? The conventional divide between the good guy cops and bad guy criminals doesn't blur, until it does. After an epic final gun battle, we have no idea who's who.

Drug Wars attains excellence as an action movie and serves as a rare example of a controversial work to emerge from a country that produces so much state-approved propaganda. More @ getthebonesaw.blogspot.com
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10/10
Drug War (better even than Election 2?) Masterpiece
Joseph_Gillis13 June 2016
Is Johnnie To the best visual storyteller working in cinema today - or for that matter, during the past 20 years, plus. Is The Pope Catholic?

Funnily enough, the story - as in who's doing what to whom and what eventually happens to each of them - doesn't matter, especially. Well it does, in the sense that we're interested in knowing that the police are looking to infiltrate and eventually defeat the drug syndicate that has been doing such damage to both the local Chinese populace, and their counterparts in neighbouring Asian countries; but there really would be no point in trying to track, minutely, the evolution and construction of that story.

The best way - maybe the only way, in Drug War's case - to enjoy Johnnie To is to just sit back and watch the knitting together of a story through immaculately-chosen visuals, and a succession of frequently rapidly-edited images, viewed from a wide variety of perspectives. If you focus on one character and try to follow his or her story arc you will probably quickly throw up your hands in exasperation.

I got the plot, and I loved the resolution, and I enjoyed the thrill- ride. I thrilled at the editing, and the choreography and recognised that this story just couldn't have been told better, if you ditched 70% of the characters, and scenes - to make it more easily-digestible. There were some great characters, action scenes, charismatic acting, and great support bits. Have I covered everything you need in a great film? Pacing: top-notch; the rapid switches of perspectives to show how the relevant characters were reacting had me drooling. Technology is used, but not abused.

Masterpiece. And there was me thinking that by 2012, Johnnie To had most likely lost the plot, given his age. Not a bit of it.

I've just ordered the DVD (Saturday night's viewing was a late-night TV broadcast). I can't wait!
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9/10
Casey's Movie Mania: DRUG WAR (2013)
caseymoviemania20 April 2013
A solid, if a tad overlong procedural crime drama anchored by two engaging performances (Sun Honglei, Louis Koo) and masterfully-crafted gunfight scenes.

Die-hard fans of Johnnie To's movie who are skeptical of the acclaimed Hong Kong director making his first crime thriller targeted specifically for the Mainland market will be suffered from strict China censorship, can breathe a sigh of relief because DRUG WAR plays like a solid Milkyway production. What's more, it's an engaging Mainland crime thriller that is bold enough to break many taboos -- namely drug abuse and portrayal of graphic violence.

Even though DRUG WAR moves in a deliberate pace, its intricate plot to see the way both sides of the Mainland police and the drug dealers going through their working procedures, is often thrilling to watch for -- particularly where Sun Honglei's Captain Zhang goes as far as adopting different personalities (among them is being HaHa) during his elaborate undercover operation.

Likewise, the cast is top-notch. Mainland actor Sun Honglei steals the show as the relentless Captain Zhang. Not to forget also is Louis Koo, who is perfectly typecast as the nervous but sneaky Timmy Choi. The rest of the Mainland supporting actors are equally credible, and so does To's Hong Kong regular team members (among them are Lam Suet, Gordon Lam, Michelle Ye, and Eddie Cheung).

Two well-staged, yet memorable action scenes are worthy of mentions here. The first one is a brief, but intense shootout sequence between the police squad and two deaf-and-dumb brothers (Guo Tao, Li Jing) in a drug factory. The other one is the brutal open-space gunfight sequence outside the primary school and the highway.

Full review at http://caseymoviemania.blogspot.com/2013/04/drug-war-2013.html
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2/10
The climatic part is no where to be found. Gun fights are awful.
saiho0111 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The plot has potential, albeit the fact that the theme (e.g. drugs with an obsessive cop, and a bit of double agent) has been way over done. The first 5 minutes immediately introduce the two main characters in this film, the obsessive cop in an undercover op. and a meth supplier (Louis Koo) crashing his car after escaping from an explosion from his meth lab. The two inevitability meets at the hospital. In exchange for freedom, Koo offers information regarding the bigger drug lords and his other manufacture operations nearby.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie begins falls flat and drag on for the remainder of the movie. Characters are quickly introduced but left to fend for themselves. Eventually, the movie does drag itself to the climatic shoot out. At this point, I recommend turning it off and do something else. Because the science behind it is similar to cheesy action flicks made back in the 80's (i.e. a wooden table can stop bullets, guns have unlimited ammo, especially pistols. Perhaps, the director and/or special effects team should do a little bit of research on how guns work. No, empty oil barrels cannot stop bullets from a gun. Not even if you have two barrels. Also, the trunk of a car cannot stop bullets either.

Overall, avoid. Not sure how this movie won several awards in Asia.
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6/10
Uneven, confusing at times, give me a better ending...
cdoggy9930 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
First off let me say that I love asian flicks and have for some time. Decided to watch Drug Wars after seeing reviews here and elsewhere. Lemme say that I have mixed feelings about it. Convoluted script and weak characters with some exceptions. Action scenes were also a letdown. Got a little dizzy trying to keep up with all the character switches going down during the drug deals. Loved the deaf guys in the movie. And I was majorly disappointed with the ending of this movie. I mean how much imagination does it take to show a lethal injection execution? And I get it, the main character still trying to make deals by selling out every drug dealer he knows even til the very end. A mixed bag for me.
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8/10
Taught, suspenseful, action packed and interesting
asandor20 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Johnnie To's Drug War is a very well shot, and well directed film about a Chinese police operation to take down a drug operation. Timmy, a high level meth dealer, is busted after his drug factory explodes, and he crashes his car trying to escape. The police agree to waive the death penalty if he helps take down the operation he is a part of. This leads to an intricate operation from Captain Zhang and his fellow officers. The operation takes them all through the supply chain, as they try and net the organizations kingpins and bust them all.

This movie was excellent. It was shot very well, showcasing the smoggy locales of big-city China. It was excellently choreographed, with the police operations especially looking professional and intricate. The action was well done, with gritty and well shot gun fights. The acting on all sides ranged from good to great, with some of the minor police officers and gangsters under performing, but some great performances from the films protagonists. Really, most of the elements of this film, from the story, to the direction, to the shots, to the action, was well done.

Two small complaints on my part keep the film from a higher rating. The first is the sound direction. It never wowed me like some other elements of the film. The gun shots were hollow and underwhelming, and lacked meat. The street sounds were muted. It just felt a little weak. The second complaint I have already mentioned above. Some of the minor characters were not acted well or fleshed out, so in the final showdown, when police officers you have been seeing the entire film go down, I felt little connection to them, and sometimes even had to look back to remember why they were there in the first place! All in all, an 8 out of 10 is a solid film. It is exciting, taught, suspenseful and has excellent direction, action choreography, and is shot well. A few minor complaints aside, this is a fabulous crime drama, and worthy of your attention if you enjoy crime films, or are into Asian cinema. I certainly enjoyed it, and look forward to giving it a watch again in the future.
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7/10
Great acting and some nice twists but hurt by censorship
ddangtruong233 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I admit that after reading some great reviews, I went into this movie expecting big things, and that might be why I felt so led down.

This is by no means a bad movie. There are some good twists here and there, accompanied by a gritty and truthful style of directing unseen it most Hollywood products. I mean in what serious Hollywood movie can you see cops pulling over to pee in the middle of the road. The acting by the two lead actors was great. Loius Koo was subtle as the villain, while Honglei Sun saved his boring role with his flexibility. I also like the way some villains were portrayed, showing them as more humane than in most other products from mainland China.

But ultimately, it still doesn't live up to its potential. The cops in this movie, staying true to Chinese propaganda, are all one- dimensional heroes who are always willing to sacrificed for the greater good. There were no internal conflicts, no questions asked, not even some hesitations. They all just quietly do what they're told. In fact, most of them maintained only one facial expression throughout the movie: anger. They were mere puppets used to show the movie's story, not realistic and engaging characters. And of course, the ending with the good triumph over evil can be seen from miles away, despite the director's effort to spice it up.

Considered the strict media censorship in China, this was probably the best the director could do, but it's still a waste of a nice premise. That's why I'm really looking forward to the upcoming South Korean remake.
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9/10
Drug War
kosmasp6 March 2014
Jonnie To cannot do wrong by me. It's not only the perfectly choreographed action scenes, but also the way he depicts the characters in his movies. The story twists are also really good, as in this one, where you get the cat and mouse game between cops and bad guys too. Really good acting in it too.

Without going further into the story and without saying there is too much violence in it either (though some might feel that way), I can only tell you that you need a great home system to really enjoy this. While I too compared To to John Woo at first, he has surpassed him and is a brand of his own. This is not his best movie (Election 1+2, Fulltime Killer), but even so a really great one
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6/10
HK Auteur Review - Drug War 毒戰
hkauteur2 July 2013
Police captain Zhang (played by Sun Honglei) partners with a drug lord named Timmy Choi (played by Louis Koo) after he is arrested. To avoid the death penalty, Choi agrees to reveal information about his partners who operate a cocaine ring. Zhang grows suspicious of Choi's honesty as several police officers began a raid on the drug ring.

Drug War is a crime film made and released in Mainland China by a Hong Kong film company. Naturally there is going to be an element of political compromise. All the policemen are Mainland Chinese and all the drug dealers are from Hong Kong (Take a guess which side wins in the end). Nationalism in movies has never really bothered me unless it borders on being disgusting (i.e. Michael Bay's Armageddon). That is not the case here and I don't have a problem with that. My interest is not the politics, but rather what Johnnie To will bring to drug film set in Mainland China. The answer? Not too much.

What's missing from Drug War are the Johnnie To quirks. The zany off-the-wall characters who have speech impediments and odd ticks are gone. The dramatic noir lighting, minimalistic stage-like blocking or themes of brotherhood are gone. Even the gunplay is less stylized and presented in a realistic fashion. I don't miss any of these specific quirks or tropes, but without the idiosyncratic Johnnie To stamp, what's left is a very straightforward police procedural.

The characters are servicing the plot, which is odd for a Johnnie To film because usually it's the other way round. We don't get insight into the distinct personalities of the drug dealers or police officers and their relationships (like in Election, an ensemble piece where it manages to characterize the supporting characters). We don't know if they have family members or girlfriends waiting for them at home or any backstory. The story is simply moving beat-by-beat linearly on the central question of how trustworthy Louis Koo's drug lord character is. There's nobody you're supposed to be rooting for, but things are continually changing and you simply watch awaiting the final outcome.

To, a director and producer with his own production company, has always been best when he has free reign. The limits of To's free reign authorship is that he is very culturally rooted to Hong Kong and possesses a firm voice regarding to its politics (Election), economic condition (Life Without Principle), daily life in Hong Kong (the office politics in Needing You), or even local nostalgia (Throwdown, Sparrow). As exemplified in 2008's Vengeance, a project which was co- financed by French financiers and starred French rock singer Johnny Halliday, To's directorial voice is weaker when he steps outside of his comfort zone. There is no sense of To's personal perspective on the topic of drug running, drug addiction, crime or how the police work in China through the film's story, themes or characters. That makes a bit tame because To has fared much better in the past.

In context to Johnnie To's back catalogue, Drug War will be remembered for pushing the boundaries with the Chinese Film Bureau. The Mainland police are shown working undercover and solving crimes, having gun battles with criminals and some even dying in the line of duty; these are all images that were previously not allowed to be shown in a Mainland theatrical release. Yet now we are seeing them on screen. So that is a proper achievement that's worth celebrating. The final product is probably more telling of Chinese film censorship than of To's directorial sensibilities. But I can't help but think that there is a grittier, nuttier version of Drug War lying in the corner of Johnnie To's desk that is stamped "rejected", namely the version of the story that he didn't get to make.

For more reviews, please visit my blog @ http://hkauteur.wordpress.com
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4/10
Shoddy Work
keeganfd27 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The "Captain's" reaction to blowing a couples line of cocaine in the hotel room and having a panic attack where he jumps into a ice bath is beyond ridiculous.

Then the final scene he gets caught because the Captain cuffs himself to his leg, this is right after he was able to escape the handcuffs by breaking his own hand, you think he might try the same technique to the hand of the captain.

Overall, I thought the acting was pretty shoddy, there is no sense of realism. Obviously the director has no understanding of the illegal drug industry, and is expecting the Chinese population doesn't either.

There is one clear message from the film, if you take or are involved in the drug industry you will get the lethal injection. This is a Chinese propaganda film aimed at scaring people away from drug use and in that sense I guess it is successful. Not something I am really interested in watching though.
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6/10
Honest review of how disappointed I was with the movie
tetraslash11 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Sadly, what almost ended as a solid 7 ended up dropping to a 6 because of a really poorly done shootout scene. I really couldn't take it seriously. I had to facepalm the moment I saw that horrendously unrealistic scenario.

I gave some points for Zhang (Sun) doing a great job acting as the captain of the task force and performing his part extremely well. I liked how they had him play as a con artist, pretending to be various different drug lords. He was basically my favourite character throughout the movie.

At the very beginning, I was extremely bothered with the script telling Tian (Koo) to just give in to the police without even a little retaliation. This just isn't realistic at all. What kind of high profile drug dealer just gives in to the police without even trying to feign innocence? This kept bothering me throughout the movie because he continues to do it throughout, selling his colleagues out to the police in the blink of an eye without even trying to fight back.

The director tried to be unique by making about every drug dealer completely different. You have some drivers who are stoned out of their minds when they shouldn't be, you have a group of dealers who are deaf, you have one who constantly laughs hysterically, and you have somebody who talks doubles. The list goes on. I mean really, is every drug lord so radically different? This wasn't very realistic. But whatever.

However, that wasn't really the factor that affected the movie so much. It was the final shootout scene that was a complete failure. It not only stalled time, it had no point, didn't solve any actual problem, and was just plain stupid from start to finish.

It's hard to explain my pain with this scene without explicitly spoiling it, if I haven't spoiled enough already. Hence the spoiler warning. You're plagued with infinite ammo, diehards who don't die even when they're shot many times, and those opposite the diehards who just die in a single random shot. But that's not the worst of it. The worst comes when the main antagonist essentially survives and kills everybody else.

I'm not sure what people liked about the movie. There wasn't even a message to the plot. It was just your average ordinary drug case. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. This movie has the beginning and middle, but no end. This movie just ends as "Everybody dies, the end.". Really, that seriously disappointed me.

You're free to watch the movie if you wish, but from what I've seen of Louis Koo and Johnnie To within the last few years, this is once again another movie you can safely avoid the pain of watching.
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7/10
Quite the hard-hitting drug story...
paul_haakonsen2 July 2020
Normally I am not overly keen on movies that was based upon a story about drugs, as they usually tend to be stereotypical and be similar to one another. Yet, I was given the chance now in 2020 to sit down and watch the 2012 movie "Drug War" (aka "Du zhan") from Hong Kong heavyweight director Johnnie To. And of course I sat down to watch it, given my love and admiration of the Asian cinema.

"Drug War" was definitely entertaining, and it was a combination of a good and non-linear storyline, along with a good amount of action and a great cast ensemble that made the movie work out well.

It was nice to see the likes of Louis Koo in such a role that deviated so much from what he usually does, and he made it work well. It was also a blast to have Suet Lam and Hoi-Pang Lo on the cast list. Now, I am not very familiar with the work of Honglei Sun, but he definitely managed to carry the lead role quite well.

What I really enjoyed about the movie was how unpredictable it was, and how the movie took a massive turn of events towards the end on the scene in the middle of the road. That scene must be seen, because it can't be given the justice it deserves with written words. Nor would I want to ruin that for you.

I was genuinely entertained by the story, and the movie also had a good character gallery - which were portrayed by a great cast ensemble. And the movie had a good mixture of action and drama as well.

My rating of "Drug War" is a seven out of ten stars. This is definitely well worth the time, money and effort.
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10/10
The Departed - On Meth
griffinreed9121 June 2020
As a long-time fan of gangster movies and police dramas, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of this film.

From a technical standpoint, this movie is at a zenith. The sound design is perfect - every "click-clack" of a pistol or lighter has a satisfying crunch. Moody cinematography with plenty of close-ups adds lots of texture. Chase scenes capture the action, and atmospheric scenes set the tone.

The story is intricate, with plenty of memorable characters (even minor roles such as "The Mute Brothers", Ha-ha, and the methy truck drivers were able to steal scenes). The main protagonist and antagonist give stellar performances, brimming with intensity and leaving the audience guessing.

Easily a 10/10, one of my favorite crime movies of all time after my first viewing. This has me wanting to look into more Asian cinema - I am clearly missing quite a few gems.
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8/10
Worth the Watch
Amira-Says10 July 2017
At first I thought it was going to be your typical action flick that has a poor plot and has a poor script that you just watch simply for the action, but I was wrong. This film kept me thinking and involved from start to finish. It's a bit longer, but certainly doesn't drag and drag. It's full of twists and is honestly the first action film I've seen in awhile that I couldn't predict the outcome correctly. It kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. Even if you aren't fond of subtitles, it is still definitely worth the watch.
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way too long and way too messy
rightwingisevil22 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
the screenplay is way too long and way too messy, with too many abrupt twists but at the same time way too predictable. too many characters way too pretentiously acted like drug dealer haha, this kind character is nothing but a clown who's not convincingly owning 70 fishing boats, guy like him is like Eric Tsang, a short fat actor often playing underworld boss or don that was absolutely impossible for a guy in the realistic world to get on top and to become a terrifying gangster boss. so a guy like haha, a clown and A+ jerk, nor could be possible to be such fearsome rich and powerful drug dealer. it's a joke to have such character in this vicious world of drugs. the film is way too long that dragged out and dragged along in cars, trains and warehouse. the final gun battle among the good, the bad and the ugly, only showed how stupid and lame the narcotic police force is and no wonder all the main characters of the narcotic team are killed. also, never saw any narcotic cop would drive a RED sedan following a drug transporting truck from south to north so close and those two guys, even overdosed so much, would not have spotted the following vehicle behind them. the scene after the truck crashed into a pile, so many cars stopped there and the scene became so confusingly messy and clueless. there are so many scenes way too pretentious to convince a viewer like me.

this is a very pretentious and flashy film, quite serious and action packed but at the same time, never allowed the viewers getting the chance to get connected deep enough.
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