Original title Du Zhan
Director – Johnnie To
Cast – Sun Honglei; Louis Koo; Huang Yi
I am such a nanna these days. I have become used to getting to bed early recently. I must be getting old. When I took my seat for a 9pm screening of Drug War after a very long day at work I had visions of myself resisting the urge to nod off during the film. I need not have worried. From its opening scenes to its startling finale, Drug War banished all thoughts of sleep.
In the writing of this blog about this movie, I have set myself the challenge of not mentioning anything about the plot. You see, I went into this movie expecting (indeed hoping) that it would be good. I knew Johnnie To was a great director, and I had seen the leading actors (Sun Honglei and Louis Koo) in other movies and had enjoyed their work. But I only had the vaguest idea what the movie was about (the title is pretty well self explanatory) and what would happen in it. I had not even watched the trailers.
It was great. The performances were excellent – Sun Honglei used his commanding screen presence, resonant voice and subtle acting technique to anchor the film and make his character utterly believable. Louis Koo turned in an emotionally nuanced performance that kept us guessing about his enigmatic character right until the end of the movie. The rest of the cast turned in good solid performances.
The plot was riveting and I found myself hanging out to see what would happen next in this psychological crime thriller. The pace of the film was tight and compelling. I kept assuming that I knew what the characters would do – what their story arc would be, who would be redeemed and who would be betrayed, who would have the narrow escape and who would die the tragic hero’s death. I was always quite wrong and this made me wonder if To was subtly playing with (even against) a modern day audience’s expectations formed by over exposure to Hollywood cliché. I enjoyed having my expectations disappointed.
I was impressed with To’s depiction of the drug world. He managed to convey its grimness and sordidness. If you know of anyone who is contemplating becoming a drug mule just have them watch the opening scenes of this movie to dissuade them. Johnnie To doesn’t veer away from the harsh realities of this underworld, but there is absolutely nothing gratuitous, prurient or voyeuristic in this movie. I am actually a fairly squeamish viewer and while there was plenty that I found sobering there was nothing I had to look away from. This is a disciplined movie with its focus firmly on providing entertainment that is tough but sophisticated. A thinking person’s cops and robbers.
Image from http://www.palace.cinemas.com.au