Directed by Johnnie To
Official Selection, 2013 International Film Festival Rotterdam
Johnnie To has directed 50 films. DRUG WAR is easily one of the best. It’s a signature ransacking of moral boundaries: cops infiltrate an amphetamine racket by getting their hands and nose hairs dirty. It’s To at his most blistering cool: the slick pace leaves no room for error, grandstanding, or sentiment. There are no side plots in DRUG WAR, just a juggernaut of interconnection galloping to its ruthless inevitability. Johnnie To makes every moment count, planting a cell phone here, a seemingly throwaway line of dialogue there, to capture a kind of procedural precision that pays off our own detective work while celebrating the intelligence of the players, regardless of which side of the law they’re tip-toeing.
DRUG WAR is the Hong Kong director’s first film set completely in mainland China. The result is not diluted; if anything, it has revolutionized Chinese action. Sun Honglei as the lead officer shifts identities with cold-blooded concentration. Johnnie To regular Louis Koo is a desperate dynamo, playing a drug manufacturer turned police informant to save himself from the death penalty. The China depicted is a dusty frontier of manufacturing and ad hoc teamwork, the people mere ants crawling from point A to point B. But the star here is To and his workman-like storytelling, handcuffing us to his tailpipe as he rips forward. Thrillers don’t get better than this. –Brian Hu
Starring: Sun Honglei, Louis Koo, Huang Yi