Johnnie To’s ‘Drug War’ is a deceptively calm police procedural

Sun Honglei (left) and Louis Koo (right) play a detective and drug lord, respectively, in "Drug War." Credit: Variance Films
Sun Honglei (left) and Louis Koo (right) play a detective and drug lord, respectively, in “Drug War.”
Credit: Variance Films

‘Drug War’
Director: Johnnie To
Stars: Louis Koo, Sun Honglei
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

The Hong Kong director Johnnie To is one of cinema’s most prolific, averaging three films a year, and sometimes as many as five. The ones that get the most attention overseas tend to be thrillers, but he’s equally diverse, just as often churning out romantic comedies and other genres. The speed and variance of his work gives each film a strange kick. “Drug War,” To’s latest to get exported, has a generic title, but it’s incredibly idiosyncratic, and could only have come from him.

The film opens terrifically in media res with drug lord Timmy Choi (To regular Louis Koo) foaming at the mouth while trying to man a car. He winds up plowing into a shop, at which point he’s apprehended by the police that have been seeking him. Choi is a bad guy, but he’s nothing compared to the detectives, who are as ruthless as their prey — maybe more ruthless. Soon after he’s introduced, the most significant, Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), coldly turns on a dealer he befriended while undercover. “I didn’t betray you, I busted you,” he crows, without a trace of feeling. Faced with execution, Choi proves eager to go turncoat for Zhang, bringing them closer to a fearsome ring, which includes two deaf-mute brothers who prove scarier than they seem.

To is a calm and collected filmmaker whose roaming camera movements look at once spontaneous and perfectly considered. There are fewer violent outbursts than in past Tos, though the few — including an epic climax where no character is safe — are blood-curdling in their steely efficiency. What is there in spades are To’s other usual, eccentric concerns, and his habit of sneaking bizarre lines of thinking into otherwise lean thrillers. Things don’t get as out-there as in his Johnny Hallyday-starring “Vengeance,” which at one point segues into a leftfield homage to “Macbeth”’s Birnam Wood. But there’s long stretches that ruminate, playfully, on the acting aspect of being undercover, plus a goofy streak that keeps throwing things off.

Buried in the film’s dense DNA, and growing in importance as the film goes on, is a crippling fear of death. Choi is so afraid of being executed that he willingly agrees to every of Zhang’s demands, even pleading with him when a slip-up lead to several bloody deaths. He’s a coward, but he’s the only character not afraid to die. As the rest of the characters head foolishly into deadly situations, as though they were accepting their deaths as part of their personality traits, his cowardice comes to look like the only sane stance.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Rapper affiliate of Wu-Tang Clan 'cuts off own…

Rapper Andre Johnson, who has performed with New York outfit the Wu-Tang Clan, is in a critical condition after reportedly cutting off his own penis…

National

Cleavage complaint: Disneyland staffer orders curvy mom to…

A curvy mom-of-three says she filed a formal complaint after staff at Disneyland Resort in California ordered her to cover up her boobs. Melissa Behnken,…

International

Canadian charged in 'Heartbleed' attack on tax agency

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police have arrested a 19-year-old man and charged him in connection with exploiting the "Heartbleed" bug to steal taxpayer data from…

National

Every dog has his day in court, in…

(Reuters) - Call him juror K-9.A computer glitch is likely to blame for a summons that called a German Shepherd to report for jury duty,…

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 8

Sure, it's called Survivor. But this season should really be called 'The Tony Show.'

Television

Jim Rash talks 'The Writer's Room' and amazing…

For Jim Rash, as the fifth season of "Community" comes to a close, the second season of "The Writer's Room" begins.

Going Out

Tasty chicken and waffles in NYC

Try some soul food goodness around the city.

Television

'Dexter' star Jennifer Carpenter moves into producing role

The actress who played the title character's sister in "Dexter" is teaming up with producer George Stelzner to adapt Erika Hayasaki's book "The Death Class:…

NBA

Knicks wrap up season with win over Raptors

The Knicks wrapped up their season as it began — undermanned — but that still didn’t deter them from ending it the right way.

MLB

Adam Warren closes out doubleheader sweep for Yankees

Adam Warren navigated a tricky ninth inning earn the Yankees a 2-0 victory over the Cubs.

NHL

Marc Staal healthy, eager to contribute to Rangers…

Marc Staal remembers the feeling of helplessness watching his teammates compete for hockey’s ultimate prize and being unable to contribute.

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

Wellbeing

This Week in Health: chocolate may prevent obesity…

Can chocolate prevent obesity and diabetes? Location of study: U.S. Study subjects: Mice Results: The positive health benefits of chocolate have been studied increasingly more…

Wellbeing

This Week in Health News: breastfed infants trying…

Are breastfed infants trying to prevent mom from having another baby? Theory: The act of breastfeeding not only brings mom and baby closer together –…

Wellbeing

Unexplained infertility may be caused by lack of…

Researchers have identified a protein on the egg's surface that interacts with another protein on the surface of sperm, allowing the two cells to join.

Tech

5 surprising facts about Google Glass

Your sex life could get more interesting.