Drug War (2012) - Johnnie To
Johnnie To is an incredibly prolific filmmaker who seems to pump out movies faster than anyone these days. While always interesting, there is a large amount of variabiilty in the quality of his films which may be simply a bi-product of this assembly-line type speed of output. Fortunately, Johnnie To's latest film, Drug War, is a fast-paced, engaging piece of filmmaking that captures this prolific filmmaker at the top of his game. Drug War tells the story of Timmy Choi, a drug lord, who after being arrested by the China's Anti-Drug unit, faces the death penalty for his crimes. Desperate to save his own skin, Choi agrees to betray his former partners by partaking in
a massive undercover operation. Captain Zhang, the leader of the unit, doesn't particularly trust Choi, but he has no choice if he wants to stop one of the largest meth dealers in the region from getting his product out on the streets. What one can expect with a Johnnie To film is an assured craftsman, and Drug War is no different in capturing To's signature style of crane shots and incredibly precise camera movements that create an engaging and suspenseful atmosphere. One of my favorite aspects of the film being To's use of the surveillance cameras, which are prevalently displayed on nearly every street light and building. They are almost a character themselves, portraying the watchful eye of the authories who monitor the streets of China. This is a simple yet dynamic narrative that takes advantage of that fact, delivering an extremely fast-paced story that really has no excess fat in its narrative. The action throughout Drug War is fantastic, per usual, with To making sure to capture the gravity of death each time someone is killed. He picks his moments, but ever so often he lingers on the characters who are suffering from the wounds of battle. The relationship between Timmy Choi and Captain Zhang is dynamic, with To never letting on whether Choi can be trusted. Timmy Choi is really the main character of this film and with the way Drug War ends I can't help but summize that Johnnie To has great disdain for how the police negotiates with bad guys, declaring that if you negotiate with the devil you are bound to get burned. Timmy Choi is a cowardly character for sure, but the film also suggests a very primitive aspect of survival in the way he does whatever it takes to stay alive. Johnnie To's Drug War is a fast-paced and engaging crime story that highlights a master of the genre at play.
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