Genre – World Cinema/Action
Run Time – 107 minutes
Certificate – 18 R
Country – Honk Kong/China
Awards – 7 Wins & 17 Nominations
Amazon – £5.75 DVD (£12.89Blue Ray)
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The Hong/Kong Chinese film industry like to keep their film titles simple and so no surprises what this one is about. It’s from Asian Extreme director Johnnie To, he of the rather enjoyable Exiled, Election and Full Time Killer, three solid Triad v Cop movies and more of the same here. These Chinese/Hong Kong action films are always fun as the sharp suited dudes shoot cool cigarette smoke dialogue from the hip, along with those bullets, as cops go to battle with the likewise slick villains. Sometimes you don’t want your subtitled films to be too complicated and that’s certainly the case with Drug War.
Louis Koo ... Timmy Choi Tin-ming
Honglei Sun ... Zhang Lei
Ka Tung Lam ... East Lee
Wallace Chung ... Guo Weijun
Yi Huang ... Yang Xiaobei
Suet Lam ... Fatso
Michelle Ye ... Sal
Siu-Fai Cheung ... Su
Hoi-Pang Lo ... Birdie
Tao Guo ... Senior Dumb
Guangjie Li ... Chen Shixiong
Captain Zhang Lei (Honglei Sun) has just bought down a drug gang on mainland China by going undercover. Most of the members are rounded up, including drugs boss Choi Tin-ming (Louis Koo), blown up in his meth lab. In the police station during questioning, Choi’s cell phone rings on the captain’s desk. Choi, facing a death sentence, begs to answer it and says another even bigger meth deal is in play in his cartel and if he helps the cops bring down the guys at the top of the chain then maybe he could get a reduced sentence? Detective Zhang agrees and Choi is released under police supervision to help with another undercover sting as an informant to try and arrest Hoi-Pang Lo, known as Birdie.
An assortment of gangsters are in place for the deal as an undercover Zhang and a cooperative Choi and sexy detective Sal (Michelle Ye) begin the plan, Choi’s biggest meth lab, run by two death and dumb mutes, the starting point, Senior Dumb (Tao Guo) pleased to see the boss is still alive.
But at the back of both Zhang and Choi’s minds is will there be an opportunity for Zhang to not only bring down his boss and avoid the death sentence but to escape during the next 24 hours as the net closes on birdie.
I enjoyed it, however comical, violent, cartoon and predictable these Asian Extreme gangster movies are. But that’s exactly what you want and a Hong Kong cliché we enjoy. It’s probably the same when Chinese people watch really bad English gangster movies with subtitles. It’s formulaic as you would expect, one cool cop and one cool villain, both in leather jackets and fairly indestructible, a pretty girl that looks good on the back of motorbike thrown in to distract from those silly plot holes.
The villains are mostly idiots and hard to believe they lasted this long in an international drug gang. Out cop is honorable and perhaps something the Chinese film sensors insist on these days, There is definitely a political message in this film that all drug dealers will be taken down with no mercy, the same leaders no doubt snorting coke in the Politburo. But that moralist approach is all part of South East Asian cinemas charm and pull.
The plot and action build nicely as suitable ambiguity is impressed in both main characters to their motives, somewhat two – dimensional hero’s and villains as it becomes a battle between cops and robbers. Surprisingly no one does kung fu and no guns kicked out of hands or men through rice paper panels. There is one of the slow motion stuff shooting bullets in the air after a double-summersault either, which is refreshing.
The subtitles are not too much of a hassle as the film very much about the look and action and not the spoken word as our two main protagonist go at it Heat style. These Honk Kong Cinema actors are always good with the often rotten dialogue they have to work with, most films over there kept simple for a likewise audience. You have seen this film a thousand times before but why not once more? It’s great fun.
Imdb.com – 7.0/10.0 (6,260votes)
Rottentomatos.com –94% critic’s approval
Metacriitc.com –86 % critic’s approval
Leonard Maltin Film Year Book –
Chicago Reader –‘Few other working filmmakers display this degree of visual sophistication and old-school craftsmanship’.
L a Times – ‘To has a great mastery of timing; he knows just how long to let a look linger before cutting away, how little he can reveal without losing us’.
Vue Weekly –‘A nicely tangled, smartly paced and cold little thriller-nothing more, nothing less’.
Entertainment Weekly –‘.The most purely enjoyable action film of the year, and I can only hope the inevitable American remake doesn't screw it up too badly’.
Film Comment Magazine –‘Not only does the film never question the ethics of a war on drugs in which dealers and manufacturers are subject to the death penalty, it appears to enthusiastically endorse it’.
Cinemalogue.com –‘Visually, it's a gritty throwback that's certain to please genre aficionados’.
Artsworld is Sky TV's latest offering in this field. The channel does have to be paid for (i.e. its not included in free to air channels or part of the family package), but you will find that it is not always encrypted. I often watch on a Sunday night. The programmes offered are impressive. Sunday night saw the first showing on TV of a Brian Ferry concert in which the singer sang a selection of 1930's hits (from his latest album). He also sang a few of his old hits with the backing of an all girl orchestral ensemble. This was followed by a showing of 'Rooster' which is a modern ballet danced to a score written by the Rolling Stones. The channel is currently showing a series of theatre masterclasses by Timothy West. A documentary on the life of Cristoph Gluck is scheduled and there are various documentaries about famous museum collections (including a collection of sah windows!) Music lovers can listen to Paolo Conte and Puccini Love Songs. There are also regular arts news programmes, including previews and reviews. If you are interested in the Arts then this channel is for you. Many of the programmes shown on Artsworld are not shown elsewhere on TV.