Drug War Screen 24 articles

Drug War

2012

Drug War Poster
  • Skillfully mixing various cinematic ingredients into a delightful recipe for escapism, "Drug War" is yet more proof that To's craftsmanship is anything but dated. On the contrary, he manages to combine pressing social issues with unadulterated entertainment, a rare combo for action movies of any nation. A straightforward story told with oodles of style, "Drug War" is also competently acted, scripted and shot.

  • Sadly missing the inventive set-pieces of To’s best films (Sparrow [2008] being a particular high watermark for his recent work), Drug War is still a functional, expertly-put-together piece of genre filmmaking. To has always excelled at mining tension in unexpected moments, and such a moment comes here when the detective played by Sun Honglei, deep undercover, is compelled to repeatedly ingest drugs in a test of loyalty by his quarry, the manic gangster Ha Ha.

  • The mainland authorities do seem to have exerted some ideological pressure... It even includes a scene in which an undercover cop tries cocaine and freaks out like a character in a Partnership for a Drug-Free America PSA... That’s not to say that it isn’t dynamic, but one comes away from the film mostly remembering its vivid splashes of color.

  • Flawlessly organized from start to finish, with initial action sequences scored to generic action music with some nice drum solos while climactic action is scoreless, just gunshots and blood squibs and screeching tires.

  • To's first full beachhead into Mainland filmmaking—after 2012's other partial-Chinese production, Romancing in Thin Air, also playful and a very uneasey study in melodramatic image politics—thus combines exhilaratingly articulated structural formalism with a politically ripe engagement of the meaning those images have when operating in a new world.

  • To has yet to receive his due as a world-class director whose films are as cinematically inventive and socially illuminating as those of Jia Zhangke. With this, his first film produced within the mainland Chinese system, the Hong-Kong based filmmaker enters the same minefield of censorship encircling Jia and other Chinese auteurs, and he has come out with a stunningly multivalent film that works as both riveting crime flick and subversive critique of the system.

  • It is To’s most Hawkasian film from the way character in it is seem through action (none of the Chinese cops are allowed every a minor scene to establish a backstory, they exist sole for work and will fade away as soon as their role in the film is done) and how it very self-conscious marries different strands of To’s filmography, borrowing a lot from both his ensemble cop films (Expect the Unexpected looms large over the procedures) and his Election series.

  • Zhang’s investigation becomes engaging for us thanks to well-honed Milkyway narrative maneuvers: a focus on suspenseful strategies and unexpected countermeasures, the weaving together of various destinies, a fascination with doubling and mirroring, surprising genre tweaks, and unusually laconic signaling of story information. Beneath its drab, almost generic surface and its apparently prosaic account of police procedure, Drug War offers a typically engrossing, off-center Milkyway experience.

  • The fact that when put into conflict these two forces [the gangsters as unregulated capitalism and the police as unregulated authoritarianism] destroy each other is, I think, a critique of both Hong Kong and the Mainland, and I think To and Wai want to show how each has gone too far and both have become merciless and inhuman.

  • To remains a master at taking potentially corny setups and working them up toward blowout conclusions, and that neat starting point soon blossoms into a miasma of blustery chaos: as usual the job is perpetual, no matter what job it is, and trying to stanch the flow of drugs into the country is as thankless and continual a task as trying to produce and sell drugs within a confusing tribute system of bosses, traffickers, snitches and dealers.

  • The film is a singularly huge, relentless, all-encompassing set piece that mutates and spasms with terrifying lack of foresight... Drug War is a great metaphorical thriller because it refuses to indulge in any metaphors at all: what happens simply happens as a matter of process, and the lives we choose come to absorb us like a great, reaching, unknowable organism.

  • 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.

  • The genre thrills are as potent as the story’s themes: As Zhang descends deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld, To expertly ratchets up the tension, even in several sequences of characters in a room talking illegal trade. All roads converge in a climactic shoot-out that is as exhilarating as it is caustic—a ballet of bullets that effectively obliterates the line separating do-gooders and devils.

  • It's a relief to see an action film that prizes concision and clarity—you can keep track of everything that happens, if you pay attention—and then even goes for a classic quote fromErich von Stroheim's Greed in the end, finding in a stroke the nihilistic genre poetry that To had previously seemed too busy with practicalities to notice. You're looking at maybe this summer's only movie that won't leave you boredom-texting.

  • Much of To’s recent work shares a common thread with the later films of Steven Soderbergh—a fascination with what could loosely be called “market forces”... Drug War brings to mind Soderbergh’s recent Side Effects, a film defined by similar changes in perspective and genre. However, while Side Effects is best at its midpoint, before the viewer has really figured out what kind of movie it is, Drug Warbecomes both weightier and more playful with each transition, building to a harrowing finale.

  • No American remake is likely to duplicate To’s relentless forward momentum or his refusal to waste time on the jokey character byplay Hollywood audiences are used to. Maybe it can simulate this movie’s noirish blend of stoicism and fatalism – qualities arguably borrowed from classic American crime cinema in the first place – but there’s no way in hell it will end on the same chord of cataclysmic, even nihilistic violence To strikes in “Drug War.”

  • Effectively a feature-length chase sequence interrupted by moments of weird comedy and interludes of savage violence, the story and its sympathies are neatly split between bad guys and good, a narrative and emotional divide that has an unsettling effect... And while Mr. To may not fill the movie with rousing speeches, either by inclination or out of political necessity, the brilliant, unsettling action scenes — ugly, savage, dehumanizing — speak volumes.

  • To’s cinema is distinctly classical, with a level of craftsmanship and surface level artistry lacking in movies today. In the world of To’s cops, criminals, the emphasis is not on cool violence or even the twists and turns of the narrative, no matter how pleasurable they may be, but on a sense of character and a rich and sharp visual style that links his films to a lineage of Hong Kong masters, as well as to the auteurs of Classical Hollywood...

  • To will jump from an overhead shot to a low-angle one, from a long-shot to a close-up, or from an objective master shot to the subjective point-of-view of a surveillance camera. The constant visual bustle shows some affinities with that of the late Tony Scott, but where Scott created mosaics, To maintains a fluid sense of progression. The filmmaking is graceful, even rapturous—which seems especially remarkable given the gritty subject matter.

  • To's latest film, his first produced with mainland money, shot on mainland locations, approved by mainland censors, and geared toward the mainland market, is a more mercenary affair, possessed of a severity of design and efficiency of execution bordering on the mechanical, but never less than spellbinding.

  • It immediately dives into an intricate plot of cops and robbers already in full motion, where one drug bust in Jinhai, China, seamlessly folds into another greater narcotics pursuit. From here, the narrative billows out like the plume cloud of smoke seen in the first de-saturated frame.... [Drug War] paints Mainland China as a series of social and thematic roundabouts where citizens keep tripping over each other in glorious cinematic fashion. It's pure bliss.

  • When violence comes, it's not the kicky hyperbole of To's The Heroic Trio and Fulltime Killer, although To stages it with a sure sense of geography and a shitload of firepower: it's brutal, ugly, and point-blank in its refusal to spare the good guys.

  • More than a touch of 70s cop movie (Exiled, which I re-watched just before, channels spaghetti Westerns), with its coiled percussive score and clean, unfiltered look. There's a quasi-documentary aspect, yet in fact character detail - esp. "Haha" though also the 7 secret crime lords, each with his/her own quirk... is in no way realistic; the film has a streak of subversive humour... Not the most substantial or visually striking To I've seen, but perhaps the most entertaining.

  • Those drained colors and suffocating frames prefigure a narrative of dogged pursuit that nominally celebrates police conviction but instead reveals destructive single-mindedness in law enforcement effectively tasked with a small-scale civil war. Yet the film never makes these points ostentatiously, often masking its excoriating themes under such vivid sequences as Louis Koo’s kingpin lamenting his wife’s death to his deaf subordinates in sign language.

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