Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Actors Give 'Drug War' a Cinematic High

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Actors Give 'Drug War' a Cinematic High

Article excerpt

There are times during "Drug War," Chinese director Johnnie To's version of "The French Connection," that you half expect Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle character to wander into a scene nervously fingering the rim of his hat.

Everything about "Drug War" from its washed out colors and overcast skies to the inordinate amount of time its characters spend in traffic, docks, warehouses and shootouts screams 1970s American cinema.

Because of this, "Drug War" feels like an old William Friedkin or Sam Peckinpah film shot in the industrial heart of China, but updated to reflect the insidious impact of the meth trade in modern Asia.

"Drug War" opens with a car careening through busy traffic, its driver Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) foaming at the mouth while trying to stay conscious. We'll soon learn that Timmy is a high-level drug baron, a cog in an enormous meth distribution network that stretches across most of Asia. He's also a duplicitous little rat who will do anything to make it through the day, even if it means betraying family.

The car eventually crashes and Timmy, who was fleeing the scene of a meth factory explosion that killed his wife and several colleagues, is taken to a hospital and put under police watch.

Timmy temporarily escapes, only to be collared by the insanely competent and stoic Captain Zhang Lei (Sun Honglei), the super cop who heads the Chinese version of the DEA in that port city. Captain Zhang and his partner Yang Xiaobei (Crystal Huang) coerce Timmy into helping them infiltrate the cartel in exchange for not being promptly executed by the state for being a drug dealer.

Timmy spills the beans on the cartel's secrets and introduces an undercover Captain Zhang to the key players in his network. In one of the film's most gripping scenes, Zhang, pretending to be an obnoxious drug lord known for his distinctive laugh, is forced to snort cocaine to prove he isn't a cop. …

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