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Drug War (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 13, 2013 by  



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If you have followed Johnny To’s film career and watched films such as “Election” or “Triad Election” or any of his action films, you get a good sense to see what kind of filmmaker he is and how he tries to craft a fine balance of story and action.  The same can be said about “Drug War”, a fascinating and enjoyable film with memorable action scenes.  

Images courtesy of © 2012 Beijing Hairun Pictures Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Drug War (Du zhan)

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9 Widescreen, Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: NR

Release Date: October 15, 2013

Directed by Johnnie To

Written by Ryker Chan, Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi Yau, Xi Yu

Produced by Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai

Music by Xavier Jamaux

Cinematography by Siu-keung Cheng

Edited by Allen Leung, David M. Richardson

Production Design by Horace Ma

Starring:

Louis Koo as Timmy Choi

Honglei Sun as Captain Zhang Lei

Yi Huang as Yang Xiaobei

Wallace Chung as Guo Weijun

Gao Yunxiang as Chen Shixiong

Guo Tao as Senior Dumb

Li Jing as Junior Dumb

Lo Hoi-pang as Birdie

Eddie Cheung as Su

Gordon Lam as East Lee

Michelle Le as Sal

Lam Suet as Fatso

Manufacturing just 50 grams of meth in China will earn you a death sentence. Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) just got caught making tons. Now he’s in the custody of Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), and has one chance to avoid execution – turn informant and help the cops bring down the powerful cartel he’s been cooking for. Over the next 72 sleepless hours, the sting spins out of control, the line between duty and recklessness is blurred, and it becomes unclear who actually has the upper hand. From Johnnie To, master of the Hong Kong crime thriller, comes an unnerving thrill ride through the modern criminal underworld.

Filmmaker Johnnie To is best known for action films such as “Running Out of Time”, “PTU”, “Exiled”, “Sparrow”, “Vengeance” and “Election” (to name a few).

In 2012, To worked on his first action film to be entirely shot and set in Mainland China.

Starring veterans Louis Koo (“Flash Point”, “Election”, “Mr. and Mrs. Incredible”) and Honglei Sun (“The Road Home”, “Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan”, “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop”), “Drug War” was nominated for “Best Film” and “Best Screenwriter” at the 7th Asian Film Awards.

And now “Drug War” will be released  on Blu-ray in Oct. 2013, courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

The film begins with Timmy Choi (portrayed by Louis Koo), driving erratically with vomit coming out of his mouth.  He then crashes into a restaurant and is brought to the hospital.

Meanwhile, we see the police arresting a number of people who have been hiding drugs inside themselves and the police making them defecate the drugs, while Timmy is asleep and watched by police.  He is suspected by Captain Zhang Lei (portrayed by Sun Honglei) as a drug dealer.

While Captain Zhang goes to investigate Timmy’s vehicle, he discovers a cell phone with many missed calls.  Meanwhile, as a ruckus takes place in the hospital, Timmy manages to escape.  But the police find out he’s missing and everyone goes to find him.  Captain Zhang and his men eventually track Timmy down and they work out a deal, he knows that a lot of drugs are being distributed by his men but he can lead the police to the bigger crime bosses in order to avoid execution (in China, anyone found guilty for the manufacturing of drugs, especially 50 grams, is punishable by death).

But as Captain Zhang poses as a drug kingpin along with his crew as part of his staff, they must put their life on the line based on the reports that Timmy gives them.

But is Timmy a reliable informant?

VIDEO:

“Drug War” is a film that is presented in 1080p High Definition.  Outdoor scenes look vibrant and are full of colors, while darker scenes showcase dark blacks, closeups showcase great detail especially with the scars on Timmy’s face and also detail on clothing.

But for the most part, I really thought the various scenes where the film was shot was intriguing.  And you can tell, one scene was shot when the smog was terrible in some part of China, while others are vibrant.  But for the most part, I thought it was a nice change of pace to see these action scenes not in Hong Kong but in mainland China and the scenery and overall shots look great on Blu-ray!

Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different. – See more at: http://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/201210/music/interviews/film-interview-pablo-larrain#sthash.c0tJDaQP.dpuf
Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different. – See more at: http://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/201210/music/interviews/film-interview-pablo-larrain#sthash.c0tJDaQP.dpuf

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Drug War” is presented in Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0.  “Drug War” delivers in ambiance and also scenes with gun fights among the police and the criminals.  By the final half hour of the film, this is where the majority of the action scenes take place and the scenes that use the surround channels effectively.

As for ambiance, areas where there many people, like in a club setting is where you hear most of the ambiance.  But other than that, dialogue and musical score are crystal clear.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Drug War” comes with a trailer.

EXTRAS:

“Drug War” comes with a slipcover.

Having watched many Johnnie To films, there are quite a few things that come to mind.

What I found to be effective is its storyline and how far the police would go to capture the drug kingpins in China.   Certain scenes are brutal and the fact it was shot in mainland China was very intriguing because most drug films I have seen are from Hong Kong.

So, shooting in China gave a new look to To’s films but it was also a learning experience from the renown filmmaker.  The film doesn’t have excessive violence compared to To’s HK films but considering this is new ground from him to shoot in mainland China, I would have to say that “Drug War” was a feature that was experimental in some ways for the veteran filmmaker.

But the action scene for this film is probably going to be one of the most memorable gunfight scenes between police and drug dealers.  Where there have been many films that show a lot of violence, the way the gun war was staged and presented on film was surprising.

People do get shot (many times) and even bodies are seen being run over.  Children are also featured during the gunfight which I didn’t expect to see but any drug war in any other country, the fact that many civilians do get caught up in the drug war is well-featured.

The film also uses quite a few mute people in the film and how they are utilized by drug groups.

As for the acting, this is the first time in which I have seen Louis Koo play a role like this and he pulls it off, as does Sung Honglei having to play the stonefaced Captain but also trying to play a laughing drug dealer.

The performances are well-done, so I was quite happy about how things were in the film.

But if there were problems that I had, it was the more obvious.  One cop trailing a dangerous criminal and taking his time before calling backup.  A skeleton crew working on a major drug bust and police trailing non-intelligent drivers of drug transportation vehicles.  And all the police can do is follow.

There were times where the film got it right with the heavy use of armed police but when the skeleton crew are the ones involved with stopping a major drug group, you would think that they would have bulletproof vests and have better weapon to combat to fight their foe. Or another in which Captain Zhang snorts a lot of cocaine to make sure his undercover identity is not blown.  But one taking an ice bath or guzzling down water to make him normal again, doesn’t seem right.

But I suppose that is my mind trying to think of why didn’t they do this instead of that and I suppose this is a film where one shouldn’t think too much of the “why’s”.  Just accept how the film presents itself.

As for the Blu-ray, “Drug War” looks great on Blu-ray and the audio quality showed a small bit of immersion for ambiance and the action sequences.  There are no special features but a trailer.

Overall, if you have followed Johnny To’s film career and watched films such as “Election” or “Triad Election” or any of his action films, you get a good sense to see what kind of filmmaker he is and how he tries to craft a fine balance of story and action.  The same can be said about “Drug War”, a fascinating and enjoyable film with memorable action scenes.

“Drug War” is recommended!

 

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