HIGH RISK, HIGH RETURN
“Drug War” or “Du Zhan” apparently marks the first time filmmaker Johnnie To directs a film directly on mainland China. As the title suggests, this is all about the good cops versus the bad drug traffickers. Here, you got drug mules to catch, drug dealers to follow and the occasional drug lord to apprehend ( or kill, depending on your mood ). Luckily, this type of material falls directly in Mr. To’s jurisdiction.
Of the two main characters, anti-drug unit captain Zhang Lei is played by Honglei Sun. He’s got the whole “deep voice” thing going on and has enough presence on-screen to keep you hooked. He’s got that “I’m-only-gonna-tell-you-once” kind of look on his face that makes him extremely enjoyable to watch.
His opposite, Timmy Choi ( played by Louis Koo ), starts the movie off being unfortunate enough to crash his car while suffering some kind of seizure. He wakes up in the hospital, under guard, and quickly tries to escape. As it turns out, he’s a major player on the drug scene.
It isn’t too long before the wounded and disfigured criminal gets caught. And in China, don’t get it twisted, if you get caught for something like this… you’re dead. Officially. So if you want to save your own skin, cooperation is the name of the game. Hence, our two protagonists, Zhang and Timmy, team up in the hopes that good ol’ Tim can provide the authorities with enough key information to take down the elusive local kingpin, Uncle Bill.
I guess you could say that this flick reminded me a bit of Michael Mann‘s “Heat“. You’ve got the two leads clashing with each other in style. You’re not sure who you’re pulling for or who’s going to win in the end, and that keeps the flow of the film moving quite nicely. Plus, there’s the obligatory giant firefight where hundreds of bullets fly by killing target after target with deadly precision. All around great stuff.
On the negative side, the music is terribly lame, almost subdued even. It resembles the kind of stuff you’d hear in a cheap rerun from the 90′s. It spectacularly fails to translate the emotions it is so desperately trying to evoke. A prime example would be the chase sequence music used early on while Timmy is trying to escape the hospital. Its so bland, missing all the hard notes, that in the end it subtracts a lot more than it adds to the excitement.
The overall look of the film is passable, albeit a bit monochromatic at times. The cinematography, costumes and locations also get a pass. It’s nothing breathtaking but it works just fine for this type of movie. Where “Du Zhan“ really shines is in the last 30 minutes.
One scene I particularly liked went down like this: two mute loyal warehouse employees get trapped in a S.W.A.T. raid. One guy’s in his pajamas, fresh out the shower he just took with his bulletproof vest on. The other’s on the can reading a magazine. All hell breaks loose and boy, oh boy… do they fight back.
To sum it up, “Drug War” is a perfectly adequate addition to the crime/thriller catalogue. Johnnie To delivers exactly what Johnnie To fans across the globe want. The two leads are firing on all cylinders, the plot is engaging and the action is at times, brilliant. What more could you ask for?