Johnnie To delivers the goods with ‘Drug War’
Starting this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox is the newest action opus from the brilliant director behind such classics as “Election”, “Breaking News” and “PTU” Johnnie To, “Drug War”. The hard-boiled and unrelenting crime drama features some of the great gun and driving stunts that To films are infamous for, but also packs some serious performances from its leads.
Written by Ryker Chan, Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi Yau, Xi Yu
Directed by Johnnie To
Drug War is an explosive new thriller, the first of Johnnie To’s action opuses to be set in Mainland China. After his narcotics factory goes up in a ball of flame, drug manufacturer Choi Tin-ming (longtime To collaborator Koo) is captured by hard-nosed cop Zhang Lei (Honglei), who is spearheading a sting operation against a massive narcotics network. Coerced by the threat of the death penalty to turn informant, Choi takes Zhang undercover into the narcotics pipeline. But as Zhang Lei gets deeper and deeper into the drug syndicate and tightens the net around the dealers, he is still unsure whether his unwilling partner has an alternate plan in place that will blow open the entire operation.
Drug War features a ‘tour de force’ performance from one of Hong Kong’s greatest actors working right now, who is almost unknown to most North American audiences, as Sun Honglei is brilliant as the hard-nosed cop who will do anything to bring down the drug cartel heads. Zhang Lei does not stop when he is forced to do cocaine, spend days with minimal to no sleep and steps right into the middle of the final dramatic and bloody violent showdown that will cause many to make the ultimate sacrifice. Louis Koo manages to perform admirably here as Honglei’s foil, his performance becomes admirable since he is far from swept under the rug by Honglei, though that could have easily been the case. The supporting cast also does solid work but Huang Yi stands out as Honglei’s female counterpart and second in command, a sexy yet self-assured and tough as nails performance.
The action, always a calling card for Johnnie To films, is excellent as we start with a dramatic car sequence that ends quite abruptly that leads directly into an undercover drug sting brought down by Honglei’s Lei. There is a hotel sequence that is very much a homage to “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” in the way that it is staged and executed with Lei sitting in for not one but 2 meetings pretending to be 2 very different people. The aforementioned final dramatic showdown all takes place on the streets during a massive sting operation, a hyper violent and brutal yet realistic blowout with bodies strewn everywhere and desperate men taking drastic measures. The staging is brilliant and will keep the audience enthralled and invested through to the final outcome.
Drug War is an excellent addition to the Johnnie To cannon, and one of the best films he has produced to date. The brilliance of Sun Honglei’s performance will hopefully open him up to the North American audience and we can only hope that there is another teaming of To and Honglei in the near future. Make sure to catch this one as it plays at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this week.
For more information on the film and showtimes, check the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s online schedule.
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Movie Junkie TO
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