"Drug War": Sometimes, Being Cool Is Enough

Drug War Few actors have exuded quite as much cool on the screen as Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo's pre-Hollywood films The Killer and Hard Boiled, but Louis Koo comes damn close in Johnnie To's Drug War. The picture follows stylish meth cook Timmy (Koo), who has manufactured quite a bit more than the mere 50 grams it takes to receive China's death penalty, as he collaborates with stone-faced narcotics cop Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei) to bring down Timmy's cartel and thus save his own bruised (yet still handsome) skin. In addition to Koo's unflappable-until-he's-not performance that's so reminiscent of Yun-Fat, Drug War also channels Woo's Hong Kong-era obsession with shifting identities and the dynamics between cops and criminals, all while managing to avoid the pitfalls of that style — director To doesn't go overboard on gunfire the way Woo homages are wont to, instead making the comparatively few gunfights count, eschewing slow motion and other such clichés. Which is not to suggest the movie isn't beautifully photographed, because it is, with fluid camera movement and impressive crane shots, but it doesn't distract from the brutality of the violence. Also notable is Drug War's depiction of a China with cameras everywhere, and the means to listen in on every conversation. The NSA is in questionable company.

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