With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, July 04, 2013

ACF 1951: Johnnie To's DRUG WAR at NYAFF tomorrow evening

 Drug War / Du zhan
Directed by Johnnie To
Hong Kong/China, 2013, 105 minutes
When: Friday, July 5, 2013 at 7:45 PM
New York Premiere
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street, New York NY

(Note: Colleen Wanglund is the author of the following review. Like me, she contributes to VCinema, and she also writes for other venues, including Cinema Knife Fight, More Horror, The Horror Fiction Review, and Monster Librarian. It's a pleasure to have her as AsianCineFest's first guest contributor.)

While not one of Johnnie To’s best films, Drug War still shows us why To is as successful in films as he is prolific. This is To’s first action film done entirely in Mainland China, and he had to deal with many bureaucrats, as well as the censors. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, To explained how some of the scenes were filmed two different ways in case the censors had a problem and they needed to be changed. Some of the original film needed to be edited according to the Chinese censors, but most of To’s film got the green light without too many changes.

Drug War opens with a car accident but quickly switches to a sting operation on a toll road in China, where multiple drug runners are arrested. Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), who was undercover in the sting and is in charge of the anti-drug squad, is told of the accident, in which the driver was arrested. The driver is Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) an illegal drug manufacturer who now faces the death penalty. With an explosion that destroyed one of his labs and killed his wife, Choi agrees to cooperate with Zhang’s squad and do whatever it takes to stay alive. He introduces Zhang to two different connections, one of whose identity Zhang will assume in order to take down the big boss, a legendary drug lord who goes by the name Uncle Bill. Things initially go well for Zhang and his team as they manage to get a meeting with the elusive Uncle Bill. The cops discover that Bill is just a front for other gang leaders but still manage to arrange a buy that will hopefully lead to a major drug bust. Unfortunately things don’t go as planned for either side which leads to a dramatic and unexpected ending.

While Drug War lacks the action of some of Johnnie To’s past films, such as Election (2005) and Exiled (2006), it still tells a compelling story and packs enough punch to be a really good film. Much of the film’s intensity comes from the enigmatic Timmy Choi and the question of his motives—is he a coward, a rat or seriously seeking redemption? Zhang and his team are scrupulous and incorruptible, taking their jobs very seriously. The gang leaders are almost a parody of what you would expect from hardened gangsters, but the characters still work without being laughable. While Drug War is light on action, it has some intelligent dialogue and enough tension to keep the viewer riveted to the screen. The last fifteen or twenty minutes of the film will have you on the edge of your seat, with enough violence to make up for the absence of action in the rest of the movie.

If you go to see Drug War at the NYAFF festival, you will not be disappointed. If you can't make it there, not to worry. Well Go USA will be presenting the North American theatrical release of Drug War starting July 26, 2013.