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With: Louis Koo, Sun Honglei, Huang Yi, Wallace Chung, Gao Yunxiang, Li Guangjie, Guo Tao, Li Jing, Lo Hoi-pang, Eddie Cheung, Gordon Lam, Michelle Ye, Lam Suet
Written by: Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi
Directed by: Johnnie To
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, drug content and language
Language: Mandarin, with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 08/16/2013

Drug War (2013)

4 Stars (out of 4)

This Meth We're In

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I've been following director Johnnie To's career for some time now, since I first saw and loved The Heroic Trio (1993). I have not seen all of his movies, as they don't often show up here in the States, and he tends to make them faster than I can find them. But I have seen a fair number, including the superb Election (2005), Triad Election (2006), and Exiled (2006). Yet the jaw-dropping new Drug War ups the ante. It's the best To film I've seen since The Heroic Trio.

Drug War is based on an exceedingly simple premise that spins ever more wildly out of control. But first you must know that, in China, drug makers and traffickers can face the death penalty, for holding even a few grams. Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) has done that many times over. When police captain Zhang Lei (Sun Honglei) nabs him, Timmy offers to give up everyone else in his operation. The catch? It all has to happen in the next 72 hours.

First Zhang poses as two different drug lords for two different meetings, trying to get both of them to make a deal; this performance must be seen to be believed. Then, loyalty and ability must be proven, and teams of cops must be put in place to pull this off. Cops must race back and forth in cars and on trains to keep up with secret meetings. Surveillance teams must be set up with very little time. And above all, Zhang must keep Timmy from escaping. This is To's first movie shot in mainland China, and it feels more spacious than his other films, yet the space is used for even more tension. There are more places to hide, escape, and disappear in this amount of space. More is at stake.

The movie cooks up so many amazing sequences, even if they're not always action-based. In one a test drug exchange is performed in traffic at a stoplight, and it's like watching a master card player switch deuces for aces with speed and skill. In another, To gives us a surprise. Timmy works with a gang of deaf-mutes, and when the time comes to infiltrate their warehouse, it turns out they're not to be underestimated. In another, two burnt out cops find that they have been following a truck carrying raw drug materials for 24 hours. Their car is splattered with mud, and a quick shot reveals a water bottle filled with urine.

The key to Drug War comes during the finale, a shootout, to be sure, but not a typical one. This one features an army of cops shooting at an army of drug dealers, and it's just chaos. The deaths here are not exciting, and some of them look rather painful, and even pathetic. Even better, this is not any kind of preachy soapbox issue movie about the untold damage, financially and culturally, the war on drugs has done. To does not appear to be saying anything here except with economy. All of these people are simply doing their jobs. Without the drug war, none of this would be happening at all.

Well Go USA released this masterpiece on Blu-ray, and, disappointingly, it comes only with trailers for this and other features from the same distributor. Nevertheless, picture and sound quality is very fine, and anyone who did not get a chance to see this in theaters is encouraged to pick it up. You won't regret it.

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