Welcome to the final entry in the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022! Today’s part 2 of the blogathon’s wrap up comes from my wonderful co-host, Kim! I’m sure she needs no introduction at this point so let’s get right into her review of 2012’s Drug War!
Drug War (2012)
Director: Johnnie To
Cast: Louis Koo, Honglei Sun, Yi Huang, Michelle Ye, Yunxiang Gao, Wallace Chung, Guangjie Li, Tao Guo, Jing Li, Hoi-Pang Lo, Eddie Cheung, Ka-Tung Lam, Suet Lam, Ting Yip Ng, Philip Keung
“A drug cartel boss who is arrested in a raid is coerced into betraying his former accomplices as part of an undercover operation.” – IMDB
With a filmography spanning from 1980 until 2020, Johnnie To is no doubt a Hong Kong director that has quite a few titles in his filmography which has been renowned especially in the action and crime area. Billed as his first action film entirely shot and film in Mainland China, Drug War is a 2012 action crime thriller that centers around a drug cartel boss that makes a strategic deal with the police officers to trade information and help out their police operation to stop a big deal going on between Uncle Bill and Bro Haha.
Drug War is led by Louis Koo as Timmy Choi, the drug boss that gets caught and tries to work the situation to his favor. Louis Koo has been thriving in the crime and action films in Hong Kong for a while and this role does give his character a pretty decent trajectory as his trust and where he stands constantly is put in question. He delivers a great performance to say the very least. Most of the rest of the Hong Kong cast appears only later in the film with some familiar faces like veteran actor who seems to find cameos in almost everything (it’s an exaggeration but it feels that way sometimes), Hoi-Pang Lo with some familiar faces like Philip Keung, Ka-Tung Lam, Eddie Cheung and Suet Lam. On the Mainland China cast, there are also some big names with Honglei Sun who plays Captain Zhang and the man running the operation with his main police officer Xiaobei Yang played by the talented Yi Huang. The whole operation also tags along a police car tailing this drug cartel from another police division where Wallace Chung and Yunxiang Gao make their appearance as well. It’s a packed cast for anyone that is familiar with Mainland China and Hong Kong films and that helps the whole film become really fun to watch.
With that said, Drug War’s shining point does also go to its script penned by three writers Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi Yau and Ryker Chan who has all been a part of scripting a lot of Johnnie To’s work. The script does wonders for the film as it creates the wild cat and mouse chase and almost musical chairs sort of deal as they play a game of pretending to be one side and then swapping over and playing the other side while using Timmy as the person to keep things in line hopefully. The whole situation becomes thrilling to watch especially as the deal starts to unravel towards the end and the big bosses, the smokes and mirrors and the loyalties all come into play. Nothing seems too far-fetched. Being a Johnnie To film, it does feel rather calm for the most part in the first half with a lot of the action taking place in the second half as the cops start to realize they have lost their grip on the situation.
There’s a lot to love about Drug War and while 2012 does have a lot of very good Hong Kong films released that year, notably Cold War and The Bullet Vanishes, and Johnnie To has done some grittier crime features like Election and Exiled and some action-packed ones like PTU and Fulltime Killer, Drug War stands out because it sets itself in China with different stakes at hand like the death penalty and having to deal with different threats and organizations. The whole film executes in a well-paced structure and it all fits together really well to create this entertaining and thrilling crime film experience.