*Originally written in 2013 based on a free copy provided by Amazon.
It has been a while since I’ve seen a new Johnnie To movie which really impressed and excited me – Drug War brings him almost back to his best with a tense action thriller which draws many comparisons with Michael Mann’s Heat. This has a large case of famous faces, inspired set pieces, numerous explosive gun-fights, and a weaving cat and mouse plot as a criminal mastermind and fierce Detective do battle. There are plenty of stylish visuals and violence, but at the core is a cold story with few easy answers and fewer happy endings for the characters.
Zhang is a no-nonsense Detective who pulls out all the stops to catch notorious Drug Lords, and during the course of the film we see him become more dangerously close to the edge, almost reckless, in his pursuit of taking down the bad guys. Sun Honglei plays Zhang with a lot of skill, morphing seamlessly from zero-emotion cop to jolly criminal impersonator. Equally, Louis Koo, playing the captured drug baron Choi is impressive at conveying grief, desperation, charm, and deadly cunning. Much of the film is a game of wits between this pair, and along the way we interact with a variety of cops and criminals, each with their own story to tell and part to play.
For those who like their action, we do get a few highlights – a factory attack and the final showdown outside a school are directed flawlessly – they serve the plot and do not seem over the top in a John Woo style but are more grounded yet no less exciting or adventurous. This is definitely one for fans of Hong Kong, Asian, or action cinema to enjoy.