The taciturn police commander Zhang leads an undercover drugs team and in his continuous battle against the ubiquitous drug barons, takes up arms against his arch enemy, Timmy Choi. When he gets hold of Choi, he makes a deal with him: in exchange for his life. The young criminal will help the police infiltrate a sizeable drug network.
To’s grace is replaced by a caustic bluntness more to-the-point than even the Category III films he ghost-directed for Patrick Yau in the ’90s. But do not mistake this ostensible calming of form for acquiescing to Chinese censors. It instead gets one over them, mirroring the no-nonsense approach taken by police to drugs until it becomes a savage. Uncompromising attack on that myopia. It’s telling that, for all the planning and swift execution of the cops to put down a drug lord’s operation. The generic upheaval of the final act comes out of nowhere to show how much they’ve missed.Honglei Sun & Louis Koo (Co Thien Lac), both solid.
And if the swooping crane shots and rapid leap of perspectives only make sporadic appearances here. What is lefts is still an incredible and termitic display of form. A cop carries his dedication to a perverse end, handcuffing a perp to his dying body. A shootout criminals force the police to have in front of an elementary school shows, with one notable exception. A lack of reluctance on the cops’ part to return fire as children and parents are still running for cover. And the threat of lethal injection that hangs over a dubiously cooperative drug lord for the whole film makes for a disturbing alternate definition of a “drug war”. One fought not merely OVER damaging chemical substances but, by both sides, WITH them. This is major, folks.
Johnnie To’s Drug War (Tran Chien A Phien) is a merciless, tightly constructed and relentlessly paced procedural thriller that rarely pauses for breath. There’s not a single wasted frame in this film. To’s use of geography and editing in action sequences make them feel so visceral.