If possible, I prefer a film that can deliver the visceral and artistical pleasure of action cinema with a more human and highly complex narrative. Drug War sure as hell deliver. It pulls quite a sucker punch on the viewer. Drug War is a procedural movie that for the most part only depicts rather than employ a moral point of view for the audiences to identify with. I really appriciate that. And Johnny To is a film maker that can make it work..
I´ve only seen a few of his works. Fulltime Killer which felt like a postmodern take on the John Woo hitman with-a-conscience/ duality between men formula. Flashy stuff mostly. Election, The Mission and this one all seem to be more realist and procedural, at the same time contain incredible stylistic elements, a fast moving plot and a highly detailed exploration of the world of Triad gangsters.
Louis Koo ( Robin B-Hood, Flashpoint) stars as Timmy Choi, a very unfortunate high level Triad member getting caught by the police during a sting operation. In China there is a death penalty for drug dealers, so he is forced to make a deal with the police and doing some undercover work for them. Choi is struggling with his loyalty throughout the film which brings the film some tension.
The police officers in charged of this operation is depicted as incredibly professional and very good at what they do, so you can see that Choi can not easily blow smoke up their arse. They know the type of person they are dealing with here, someone who is out for themselves when its their own ass on the line. But that can easily change so they have to be wary of him.
Despite, or perhaps because of the lack of melodrama, the film presents us with a very grim world detached of consideration of human lives. The cops don´t care for Choi, if he lives or dies. And at the end nobody else does because of the choices he has made.
I guess the way Choi is presented as someone struggling with the situation, this is a point of view the film takes. As the cops are not really given much personalities, just hard assed professionals not giving a shit about Choi´s situation. They at some points come across as just as ruthless as the Triads.
The climactic shootout is a perfect example of the stylized procedural elements of the film. With very little attachement, To shows us," this person shot this person , and then this person shot this person". With the editing, the sequence becomes an almost rhytmic domino-effect of the conflict resolution. It is reminiscent of the big shoot out from Michael Mann´s Heat, but there is something disturbing about the callousness of all the murders.
I would rank this as highly as Infernal Affairs when it comes to hardboiled cop actiondrama from suutheast Asia and it deserves a wider audience than it probably will ever get.It is an intelligent film with strong central performances, tough action sequences and a gritty tone.