Hey there, I’m Jared. I have 572 movies and shows in my Instant Queue and that’s just way too many. I’m going to slowly work my way through my queue until there’s nothing left, one movie at a time. But, I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that too. Let’s get to it!
What’s the movie? Drug War (2013)
What’s it rated? Rated R for poopy covered drugs, the soullessness of high level drug trade and two of the best fucking gunfights I’ve ever seen.
Did people make it? Written by Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan and Yu Xi. Directed by Johnnie To. Acted by Louis Koo, Sun Honglei, Huang Yi, Wallace Chung, Guo Tao and Li Jing.
What’s it like in one sentence? A morality tale disguised as a good old fashioned crime procedural.
Why did you watch it? therelaxingdragon wanted me to watch something good.
What’s it about in one paragraph? Timmy Choi (Koo) is busted by the police when his meth lab explodes and he almost dies from inhaling all of that toxic shit people put in their bodies. In China, if you’re dealing on that level, you get the death penalty without passing go, so Timmy decides to help the police, led by the brilliant undercover cop Captain Zhang (Honglei), bust the people above him on the drug lord totem pole. The film follows Choi and Zhang over an intense couple of days as they sink deeper and deeper into the mainland China drug world.
Play or remove from my queue? I would play the hell out of this one. Even with all the hype surrounding it I still found myself spellbound by the story in minutes. Maybe if you’re someone who is constantly consuming the Asian Gangster genre then the film won’t seem so special (or maybe it will be even more special), but as someone who has distanced myself from the genre lately I found myself surprised by how much I cared and by how beautifully crafted the film was.
I used to be an avid consumer of all the Hong Kong action films I could get my hands on, but I eventually became so burnt out on the genre that I was bored with films I knew I would have loved weeks or months earlier. Exiled has always been my favorite Johnnie To film with Breaking News coming a close second. I’ve always loved how To’s films took the operatic sweep of Beat Takeshi’s Yakuza films and added a hyper-kinetic visual vocabulary to them that made for an almost seamless blend of John Woo’s pulse pounding gun fights and Kitano’s almost trance inducing mastery of cinematic storytelling. With Vengeance though, I just stopped caring. It’s an OK film and I even reviewed it for this column, but it left me feeling hollow and that the genre had maybe said all it had to say which in turn made me feel sad and hungry and that I was wasting my time.
What is fairly incredible about Drug War is that it does nothing to reinvent the genre in any way. It just tells a very simple story of ambition, cowardice and heroism confidently with flawless pacing, thus making me realize that there’s really no such thing as a defunct genre as long as there are still filmmakers with something to say toiling in them. Johnnie To seems energized here in a way I haven’t seen him since Exiled and it’s a wonder to behold as he’s basically made a perfect distillation of what made the genre so fascinating in the first place:
- Incredibly complex and nuanced performances by the leads.
- Taking the repetitive aspects of a procedural and making them feel fascinating and new.
- Gunfights that are exhilarating while also informing on character and theme.
- Only dealing in shades of grey.
- An ending that is steeped in questions of morality and justice.
Drug War takes on all of these things and also leaves room for badass mute brother warriors, ridiculous character based comedy and a couple of setpieces that left me breathless. It’s just a simple and excellent film that reminds you why you like Hong Kong action cinema in the first place.
How’s the music? It is the worst part about the movie. It constantly reminded me of an early ’90’s Dolph Lundgren DTV flick with the cheesy keyboard stylings and the outdated synth beats. This needed some genuine orchestration.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? New World (almost watched this a dozen times), Triple Tap (more Louis Koo!), The Last Tycoon (is this a remake?), Secret Reunion (I should watch this just for Song Kang-ho) and Heat Team (anyone?).
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? Louis Koo, who is arguably the lead, had his voice dubbed into Cantonese for the film. I guess it’s a sign of the technical wizardry behind the movie that I never even suspected he was speaking a different language.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 4.0
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.7
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? I also need to emphasize how good Sun Honglei is in this. He plays the effortlessly cool demeanor of an undercover cop so perfectly that when he switches gears into pretending to be other people, he’s jawdropping. Also, the gunfights in this have zero slow motion which was a giant breath of fresh air. Or of acrid powder. Whatever.
Did you watch anything else this week? Captain Phillips. It was lovely.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, American Mary? Mary getting stalked by the Barbie Doll’s husband over what she did in the surgery just felt like manufactured drama, did it not?
Next Week? Sexy Evil Genius, Lovelace, As I Lay Dying, Toad Road or Somebody Up There Likes Me? Or you can throw one out.