Drug War

(Hong Kong/China, 2013)
New York Premiere
105 minutes, DCP, in Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Johnnie To
Starring: Louis Koo, Sun Honglei, Crystal Huang, Lam Suet, Guo Tao, Li Jing

China has iron-bound rules regarding content in its movies, much in the same way that the Production Code used to stifle Hollywood: no depiction of immoral elements, no drug use, no sex, criminals must always get their just desserts in the end, no glorifying a life of crime. The cinematic highway is littered with the burning wreckage of directors who ignored these commandments, but now, Hong Kong’s master filmmaker, Johnnie To, has navigated these perilous waters to deliver his first Mainland Chinese crime film and the result is the most deeply subversive movie to ever hit Chinese screens. Surprisingly, it also shot to a box office gross of over US$16 million in its first week, and has become the highest grossing crime film ever released in China. The fact that Johnnie To made a movie this hardcore and didn’t go to prison is something of a miracle.

Told in the cold, clipped style of a police report, DRUG WAR starts with Louis Koo crashing his car through a downtown restaurant after being injured in an explosion at his meth lab. Meanwhile, at a bleak toll road across town, tough cop Sun Honglei rounds up a busload of drug mules whose butts are crammed with cocaine condoms. The two men cross paths at the hospital where Louis Koo demonstrates that he’ll do anything to avoid prison. Sun Honglei sees this as a chance to get on the inside of a drug ring, and he strongarms Koo into helping him go undercover. Thus begins the most intense 72 hours in history as Sun works his way up the ranks of Koo’s gang, while Koo seems to be playing a game of his very own.

It’s not just the weather that’s skin-searingly cold in this flick, it’s the hearts of men. Usually movies about undercover cops get all worked up about the cop and the criminal becoming friends and having to “betray brothers” but this flick dispenses with all that sentimentality in one swift head butt at the beginning. Sun Honglei will do anything to bring down the crooks, and Louis Koo will do anything to avoid prison. But while this movie doles out intense high caliber action (including an epic gun battle during carpool pick-up at an elementary school) Johnnie To and screenwriter Wai Ka-fai are telling another story beneath the surface. This is a story about how Chinese cops and criminals alike have sold their souls for cash, and how the battle they’re engaged in is a zero sum game where there is no winner. It’s a merciless game of poker that makes monsters of its players and only ends when the last bullet-riddled body hits the ground.

Part of the Well Go USA Spotlight


Friday July 5, 6:15PM Walter Reade Theater Buy Tickets