Simple and straight to the point, Drug war is about a war on drugs. Sun HongLei plays a mainland, undercover cop named Zhang who’s also the captain of his team. Coming off a successful drug bust, by chance, he finds Timmy Choi in the hospital whom he immediately deduces as being involved in the drug trade. It turns out Timmy works for a major drug supplier and is supposed to set up an important meeting between the supplier and a port owner who wants to get into drug smuggling. Neither one knows what the other one looks like which presents a double duty undercover opportunity for Captain Zhang to take down a major drug supplier with Timmy’s help.
For the first hour, the story plays out in a straight-forward and at times all too predictable manner. Zhang’s team is super competent and everything seems to go their way as Zhang impersonates the port owner and the supplier with Timmy vouching for him in both scenarios. Luckily, just as the plot begins to drag a bit, some twists and turns occur and it leads to a couple of very satisfying shootouts with powerful gun shots and exploding pools of blood. People get shot, hit by cars and pretty much die immediately or almost immediately, no seemingly invincible people here although some have impeccable aim.
Most of the film takes place on the mainland but it seems Johnny To was able to make the gritty, crime film he wanted as we are not presented with only squeaky clean and pretty parts of China although there is a bit of that. There are also a group of deaf characters in the film which I found to be interesting, something you don’t see often in films. Their deafness does come into play during a pre-shootout sequence. Camera work is dynamic and not obtrusive to the action. Sun HongLei is particularly great if unnaturally tireless and Louis Koo also does a good job.
Overall, this turned out into a very solid crime film. The story isn’t complex and although the supporting characters are generally bland, the main characters are defined enough for us to root for or against. It may not be as interesting story or character-wise as some of To’s best crime thrillers from the past but the shootouts alone will delight fans of his past work. Luckily for North American fans, Well Go USA will be releasing Drug War on VOD, Blu-ray and DVD in July (USA) and in August (Canada) of this year so if you didn’t catch it in theatres or festivals you won’t have to wait long.