Thursday, February 27, 2014

Drug War (SIFF 2013) - Movie Review

Johnnie To's latest in what seems like an endless stream of quality motion pictures is Drug War and this action packed thrill ride may be his best yet. Louis Koo, Honglei Sun, Ka Tung Lam, and Yi Huang star in a movie that was celebrated with enthusiastic applause during the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival.

This movie lets you know right from the start that you are in for a wild ride as one of the first thing we see is Timmy Choi Tin-ming (Louis Koo) haphazardly driving his car, vomiting all over himself and then crashing his car right through a storefront window. Of course, this leads to his arrest for various things including drug possession which outs him in the hands of detective Zhang Lei (Honglei Sun) who has designs on using his new asset to root out the underworld from the inside out.

This leads to an operation that goes so far undercover that Zhang Lei is pushed far past any legal boundaries he has sworn to uphold, but every move he makes gets him closer to the drug lords he is trying to bring down. Connections are made, deals are brokered, and eventually Zhang and his squad are ready to make their move, but even they may be underestimating just how far in they have got themselves and whether its possible to come back out alive.

I believe one obvious comparison that could be made to an American film would be Heat. Each film carries the same level of intensity throughout and both end up with seemingly endless body counts before everything is said and done. Honglei Sun definitely takes command of the lead role and really runs with it while showing an ability to go just as far into the character as the character goes into playing his role in the story...if that makes sense. The rest of the cast is very solid but his performance is really what makes the whole thing work.

Director of photography Siu-keung Cheng, who is best known for his work alongside Johnnie To on such classic films as Election and Exiled, definitely has an eye for where the camera should be placed at any given time but especially during some of the bigger action sequences. He does a great job of framing the action to make it feel really big yet you still feel like you are right in the middle of bullets flying and vehicles exploding around you. This is definitely a hallmark of To's action movies and there is no shortage of it here.

If you are into crime thrillers and action movies, Drug War is definitely one you want to check out. Johnnie To is so good at grabbing your attention from the very first moment and not letting go until every single clip has been emptied, every drop of blood has been spilled, and you are left still clinging to the edge of your seat as the credits begin to roll.


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