Sales: Media Asia, Hong Kong ([email protected])


Premiere: Rome Film Festival (Competition, surprise film), 15 Nov 2012. Theatrical release: China, 2 Apr 2013; Hong Kong, 18 Apr 2013.

Presented by Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN), Huaxia Film Distribution (CN), China Movie Channel (CN). Produced by Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN), Milkyway Film Production (HK). Executive producers: Liu Yanmin, Gu Guoqing, Yan Xiaoming. Producers: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai.

Script: Wai Ka-fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi. Photography: Cheng Siu-keung. Editing: Allen Leung. Editing supervision: David Richardson. Music: Xavier Jamaux. Art direction: Horace Ma. Costume design: Boey Wong. Sound: Benny Chu, Ricky Yip. Action: Yick Tin-hung. Car stunt: Chan Man-cheong. Visual effects: Law Wai-ho (Different Digital Design). Second unit direction: Soi Cheang. Associate director: Mak Kai-kwong.

Cast: Sun Honglei (Captain Zhang Lei), Louis Koo (Choi Tin-ming/Timmy Choi), Crystal Huang (Yang Xiaobei), Wallace Chung (Guo Weijun), Gao Yunxiang (Xu Guoxiang), Li Guangjie (Chen Shixiong), Guo Tao (Senior Dumb), Li Jing (Junior Dumb), Lo Hoi-pang (Birdie), Eddie Cheung (Su), Gordon Lam (East Lee), Michelle Ye (Sal), Lam Suet (Fatso), Ng Yuk-san (Hatred), Keung Hon-man (Darkie), Gan Tingting (HaHa's wife), Hao Ping (HaHa), Cheng Taishen (Captain Liu), Nick Wang (Lin), Xiao Cong, Gao Xin (drivers), Yin Zhusheng (Li Guangcheng, the snake head), Wang Zixuan (Ming's wife), Tan Kai (Li Shuchang), Li Zhenqi (Uncle Bill/Bill Li), Wang Siya, Meng Rui, Zhao Xin, Tong Qianqian, Zhou Yubo, Qin Bokun, Wang Jingyu, Lin Xu, Yang Yi, He Tianyang, Liu Qi, Yang Xue, Chan Siu-hei, Ip Kwok-kin, Wang Yang, Fan Min, Qin Shiyue, Zhao Jianpeng, Liu Lu (Jinhai Anti-Drug Squad members), Jiang Changyi (Jinhai Anti-Drug Squad commander), Ma Jun (Captain Yu, Jinhai coastguard), Yao Gang (Captain Ding), Ren Yan (Ming's senior brother-in-law), Guo Zhigang (Ming's junior brother-in-law), Zheng Wanqiu (Senior Dumb's wife), Yi Lin (Junior Dumb's wife), Wang Boyang, Zhu Honglin (Dumb Brothers' men), Zhang Xu, Zhang Hong, Wang Ying (HaHa's men).


Drug War 毒戰

China/Hong Kong
Contemporary crime thriller
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 105 mins

Directed by Johnnie To (杜琪峰)

Drug War

By Derek Elley

Fri, 16 November 2012, 05:00 AM (HKT)

Johnnie To's first Mainland crime movie is quirky, playful and much more hit than miss. Asian and genre festivals, plus ancillary.


Jinhai, a port city in northeast China, the present day. After an explosion in his cocaine factory that kills his wife and her two brothers, Choi Tin-ming (Louis Koo), 39, from Hong Kong, escapes in his car but later crashes into a restaurant under the influence of drugs. Meanwhile, at the city's highway toll station, drug dealer Li Guangcheng (Yin Zhusheng) is arrested by Jinhai Anti-Drug Squad members, led by undercover cop Captain Zhang Lei (Sun Honglei) and his colleagues Yang Xiaobei (Crystal Huang), Xu Guoxiang (Gao Yunxiang) and Guo Weijun (Wallace Chung). Tin-ming is taken to the same hospital where Guangcheng and his gang are being forced to evacuate the cocaine pods they're carrying inside their bodies; when a pod bursts inside one carrier, Tin-ming tries to escape during the panic but is caught by Zhang Lei and his team. Told he is liable for the death sentence unless he co-operates, Tin-ming agrees to help Zhang Lei break the whole network, which includes buyer HaHa (Hao Ping), supplier Uncle Bill (Li Zhenqi) and Bill's associate Li Shuchang (Tan Kai). At the hotel where Tin-ming is to do a deal, Zhang Lei poses as Shuchang and accompanies Tin-ming to meet HaHa and his wife (Gan Tingting). HaHa has grandiose ambitions of joining up with drug sellers in Northeast China, South Korea and Japan, and wants Shuchang to arrange a meeting for him with supplier Uncle Bill. HaHa is taken in by the deception and leaves. As the real Shuchang arrives - spaced out on cocaine - Zhang Lei next poses as HaHa and eventually convinces Shuchang to set up a meeting with Uncle Bill in Yuejiang - but only after being forced to share some cocaine that almost kills him. The same night, Zhang Lei and Tin-ming take a high-speed train south to Erzhou, central China, where Tin-ming has another factory, run by two deaf-and-dumb brothers (Guo Tao, Li Jing), in which Tin-ming plants hidden police cameras. Zhang Lei & Co. then take a high-speed train to Yuejiang to meet Uncle Bill; but the latter reschedules the meeting at the last moment to Jinhai. As Zhang Lei tightens the net around all the drug dealers, he is still not sure whether Tin-ming will renege on their deal.


It's been a long courtship between Johnnie TO 杜琪峯 and China. Over 30 years ago the Hong Kong director-producer shot his first feature there — costume martial arts drama The Enigmatic Case 碧水寒山奪命金 (1980) — but subsequently didn't return to the Mainland. Finally, To's attitude seems to be changing. After including a few China scenes in his rom-com Don't Go Breaking My Heart 單身男女 (2011), and then shooting a whole romantic drama there (Romancing in Thin Air 高海拔之戀Ⅱ (2012)), he's now made his first contemporary action movie that's both set in China and funded by Mainland companies. Despite using his regular team of writers and technicians, as well as many actors he's worked with before, Drug War 毒戰 (2012) is more than just a Hong Kong graft onto the body China. To has modified his style to take account of the Mainland's different look and more spacious geography, as well as appearing to be newly energised by the challenge of what he can get away with.

The result is a playful movie, motored by a typically poe-faced performance by Mainland star SUN Honglei 孫紅雷 (I Do 我願意 (2012), Lethal Hostage 邊境風雲 (2012)) as a determined drugs cop, that doesn't quite hang together as a whole but has some fine sections and an overall cold realism that doesn't stem just from the wintry setting. (The early hospital scenes and chilling final scene have no equal in any of To's previous movies.) If he chooses to pursue the new avenues opened up, Drug War could mark a fresh beginning for To as an action director, rather than remain a one-off challenge he's clearly had some fun in taking on.

Unlike Romancing, which could have been set in a mountain resort anywhere for all the use it made of the Mainland, Drug War was clearly shot in China (mostly around Tianjin, in the northeast). From the desolate industrial locations to wide streets, it's immediately clear this is not To's usual stomping-ground of congested Hong Kong or Macau. The film makes good use of the country's different topography: a bag-exchange between cars in a typically broad thoroughfare, a power-game involving boats in a port, and the way in which the cops take high-speed trains from one location to another. The widescreen photography by regular d.p. CHENG Siu-keung 鄭兆強 also has the colder, grittier look of Mainland crime movies and TV series rather than the fancier, warmer lighting of Hong Kong ones.

On a story and character level, To and lead writer WAI Ka-fai 韋家輝 push the comic elements to the extreme (and sometimes beyond): a whole drug factory managed by a deaf-and-dumb family (one of whom is played by Mainland comic GUO Tao 郭濤), a whole section in the middle that revolves round Sun's cop hamming it up in two contrasted roles, a pair of coked-out drug transporters, and the last-minute introduction of a set of new characters played by members of To's Hong Kong repertory team like LAM Suet 林雪, Gordon LAM 林家棟, Eddie CHEUNG 張兆輝 and Michelle YE 葉璇.

The last of these ideas really doesn't work, introducing a distracting element when the film should be moving towards a finale with its existing characters. Many of To's films dip dramatically around the 70-minute mark, before gearing up again for an action finale, and Drug War is no different. In this case, it's a shootout set outside — gasp! — a primary school, a cheeky idea that manages to get the movie over its dramatic hump and on to the final, final shootout in a safer area.

Elaborately choreographed, and with no lack of power from China's stricter regulations on screen violence, the action sequences are enough to keep To's bang-bang fans satisfied, especially with director Soi CHEANG 鄭保瑞 (Accident 意外 (2009), Motorway 車手 (2012)) in charge of second-unit work. One sequence in particular — a drug factory shootout an hour in that's not accompanied by any music — is particularly effective. Where the film is weaker is in the central relationship between Sun's drug cop and Hong Kong actor Louis KOO 古天樂's cocaine merchant-turned-informer. In his 10th To outing, Koo, as in Romancing, downplays his matinee-idol looks but is really no equal for the more versatile Sun: with no real screen chemistry between the two, or sense of any cat-and-mouse, the underlying theme of the two locked together (sometimes literally) in a life-or-death game doesn't have the dramatic power intended.

The other main cast are largely good, especially the striking Crystal HUANG 黃奕 (Koo's manager in Romancing) as a hard-nosed drugs cop and TAN Kai 譚凱 as a smacked-out middleman. Xavier JAMAUX's atmospheric, burbly music is effective in knitting together disparate scenes into longer paragraphs, and the Mandarin re-voicing for Koo is a good match. With its constant shifts of tone, and deliberately opaque approach to plotting, Drug War keeps the audience on its toes and largely engaged. It will be interesting to see whether To and his team follow it up with more movies outside their Hong Kong comfort zone.

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