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Sean Tierney
Actor , Screenwriter , Musician , Comedian , Author
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Movie Review: Drug War/毒戰

DrugWarfilm (1)

 I admit, I thought that was Wu Jing/吳京 on the left .

*********I watched Johnnie To’s latest film this week.*

I wish I hadn’t.

Drug War/毒戰 is a Chinese-Hong Kong film directed and produced by Johnnie To and shot on location in and around Tianjin, China.


What happens in Tianjin should stay in Tianjin. 

It tells the story of a Mainland policeman’s quest to break up a drug ring. The cop, played by Sun Honglei, is aided by an apparently penitent member of the ring, played by Louis Koo Tin Lok.


Hard Boiled/辣手神探 had Tequila.Drug War/毒戰 has Moutai. China FTW!!!

Of course, telling you the movie is about a cop trying to arrest a criminal in China is in essence a spoiler, because  Mainland  movies about Mainland cops are only allowed to have one ending.

I won’t tell you what it is, but you can guess, I imagine.


 justice is swift. See how they run.

Watching a Chinese police (or ghost) movie is, I imagine, like being a woman who spends an evening with a man she must sleep with even as she knows he is impotent.

You know how your evening is going to end, and you’re not going to be happy.

And you know there’s not a shred of possibility that you may be pleasantly surprised.

There’s no movie Viagra in China.

Speaking of pharmaceuticals,  Drug War/毒戰 has all the dope knowledge and verisimilitude of an ABC After School special.

I can’t even figure out what the drugis , because one person does it and gets sleepy and another person does it and hallucinates, and others do it and get jittery. So it may be heroin, or amphetamine, or Special K.


“Chinese drugs are versatile and powerful!!!”

Naturally, these drugs are not really a Chinese issue, as the purported Mainland mastermind turns out to be the ‘face’ for a Hong Kong cartel.

Lovely avoidance of blame/responsibility.

If that’s not enough, the drugs are supposed to be shipped to Japan and Korea rather than staying in China.


 It’s English because only foreign scum commit crime in China.

Certainly it is progress of a sort that a China production even acknowledges the existence of drugs in the country.

But naturally, it’s all because of foreign influence and taint.

And f@#$ Japan.

But it’s not just the narcotic aspect of the film that suffers from a dearth of logic and intelligence.

With one phone call, an entire fleet of fishing boats can be put to sea immediately, without any preparation, without so much as casting off of lines or anything else vaguely realistic.


Louis Koo stars in McHuang’s Navy.

I’m not sure if this  spit-roasting of accuracy is a result of ignorance or shoddy scrīpting.

It’s the glorious power of Chinese police and fishermen!


These storyboards say everything you need to know about the intellectual level of the film. 

***Drug War/毒戰*  is a bleak-looking film. It has a constant cold, grey tone that is not so much a choice as a necessity, given just how polluted it is in China.**

You could make a romcom full of happiness and it would still look grey.


“I love you so much I can’t breathe. Wait…”

In the midst of all these illogical machinations and haze,  there are actors working hard (and succeeding) at doing a good job. 

Sun Honglei is quite good, playing a role that requires a number of significant shifts in behavīor.


Chinese mosquitoes are formidable!

Louis Koo spends a lot of the movie speaking Mandarin,  but in general does a good job as the double-dealing dope dealer Timmy Choi.


Louis Koo stars in The Bo Xilai Story.

Crystal Huang Yi is entertaining and believable in her role, managing to hit all her marks in the humor, action and drama departments.


“How can we fit all this milk powder into the bag???”

Unfortunately, her character is literally and figuratively wasted by film’s end, for no discernible reason or narrative advancement.

Guo Tao  is very entertaining and even impressive in his small but significant role as a deaf mute drug manufacturer.


“Yes, I am.”

Lam Suet, Michelle Ye, Gordon Lam, Eddie Cheung and a number of other To regulars actors are unfortunately thrown into the film like afterthoughts, their presence and acting abilities squandered. 


Lam Suet discovers that a gunfight is a hell of a time to get indigestion.

There’s some good acting going on, but it’s difficult to say it’s a good movie, because all of the characters are flat and one-dimensional; there’s no substance to them.

As a result, you can’t really relate to them emotionally, so their fates, whether good or bad, don’t really affect you.

Kind of like the characters.

The final shootout is dull, pointless, and uninteresting. It’s an abject mess that grossly fumbles a rich dramatic opportunity of a set piece.

It’s not at all what we used to get from Johnnie To.

It’s not a very good movie and it’s a lousy Johnnie To movie.

Compare the shootout in 1999′s The Mission with this one, or the characters with 2006′s Exiled, or the story with 2005′s Election.

Obviously, there is no comparison.

I fully understand the nature of a film industry, that film makers have to follow the money.


A dislocated jaw proves that the China Market C*ck is no easy suck.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like the films that result, or that I have to accept the things that filmmakers do.

Especially when someone who once made wonderful, energetic, exciting films now seems content to churn out pedestrian Sinocentric garbage that besmirches his legacy like a panda bear with explosive diarrhea.


A visible twinge of guilt at selling out like a cheap whore?

***Drug War/毒戰*   stinks.**

It’s not so much enraging as depressing. 

It’s devoid of all the things that made Johnnie To movies interesting.

It’s tailored to fit into China and is therefore leaden, didactic, completely predictable, and intellectually and morally prepubescent.

That’s the problem with so many SARFT-approved China movies.

There’s never anything implicit about them; everything must be explicit.


“他妈的这个外国混蛋. 他可能是一个间谍.”

At film’s end, we hear a voiceover of Louis Koo being sentenced to death (as if we didn’t already know it).

But that’s not good enough; we have to watch his execution by lethal injection while he whinges and pleads like all criminals must in the face of the Party’s swift and fair justice.

It’s not only laborious, it’s disingenuous; w e all know he’d get a bullet behind the ear and his family would get the bill. 


 His righteous cop heart is bursting with patriotic fervor and justice. Or tainted pork. 

But such an unflattering depiction might make the government (read: the Party) look less than magnanimous, fair and kind. 

And that’s simply unacceptable.

Well, so is   Drug War/毒戰.


over 9 years ago 0 likes  1 comments  0 shares
45862083 0af2fd4d5d
i was amazed it was even being released in China... so you have to give them some props for that...
over 9 years ago


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Hong Kong
Member Since
April 1, 2008