Critics' Pick

Drug War (Du Zhan) (R)

Action/Adventure 105 July 26, 2013
By Michael Atkinson
Hong Kong genre film volcano Johnnie To rocks crime thrillers like it was still 1999. Drug War might arguably be his best-- it doesn't attempt to raise the stakes on its genre, but instead fully exploits what's there, piecing together an elaborate narc campaign tale out of classic clichés and tight-knot plotting, and letting the disaster of balls-out crime make its own statement. The opening is a workshop in narrative speed: We see a distant plume of toxic smoke, a panicked and vomiting driver, his ignored cell phone buzzing, the traffic cameras watching him, and his eventual storefront crash-- all in one minute flat. Arrested and hospitalized, Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) had been escaping from a methamphetamine factory explosion at about the same time a bus full of dope mules was raided at a busy toll plaza. After we learn more than we wanted about the dirty work of extracting and rinsing feces off ingested condom balls, the story falls into Timmy's hands, as he bargains with narc captain Zhang (Sun Honglei) to use him as bait. Sun's sleepy-eyed cop is a hilariously ultra-cool Steve McQueen avatar, but the movie never postures—it's too busy with procedure. Well over a dozen points of view get tied into the plot, converging finally on a wide block in front of a busy elementary school for a shoot-out/crash-up entailing uncountable clouds of blood spray and at least one roadkill pedestrian. To's movie isn't self-glorifying about its breathless editing-- no cut exists for its own sake, and the geography of this climactic scene is densely mapped out.
Johnny To, Ka-Fai Wai Louis Koo, Honglei Sun, Yi Huang, Wallace Chung, Yunxiang Gao Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi Yau, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi Variance Films


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