If there’s any director working today hell-bent on becoming the next Martin Scorcese, it’s Hong Kong director Johnnie To. With the classic gangster films Election, Election 2, and Throw Down, To has a new notch on his belt with Drug War, available October 15 on Blu-ray from Well Go USA. Drug War also lends itself some resemblance to Infernal Affairs, and may seem reminiscent of Scorcese’s remake, The Departed.
Drug lord Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) has just been arrested after he crashes his car into the front of a restaurant. Choi runs a meth lab and after an explosion kills his wife and brothers, he wants to make a deal with police captain Zhang (Sun Honglei). Choi will help the police take down his partners to avoid the death penalty, but Zhang can’t help but be suspicious of Choi’s honesty as they move in on their bust.
To keeps Choi’s loyalties at bay for most of the film, until the final act where all hell finally breaks loose on the streets of Hong Kong. With four writers credited (Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, and Yu Xi), the script could have been a bullet-riddled mess, but To keeps the suspense boiling, with plenty of surprises throughout the runtime. Koo and Honglei play fantastically off each other, with a supporting cast having a lot of fun making you second guess Choi’s accomplices at every turn. The finale is one for the books and will definitely keep viewers on the edge of their couches.
Well Go USA throws Drug War onto a 25GB disc, which is more than enough room considering there are absolutely no special features. Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film may have been photographed on 35mm, but grain is pretty absent. Maybe it was stripped during the 2K conversion, but it never takes a complete toll on sharpness. While it could look a tad sharper, detail never diminishes. Blacks could be a little more solid, but this manages to keep shadow delineation accurate.
A scratch shows up at the 45:42 mark and a slight shimmer is seen late in the film, otherwise, Drug War is another top notch transfer which is what’s come to be expected from Well Go USA releases. The film is presented in a Chinese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio which is extremely front heavy, but makes use of surrounds when the action finally kicks in, with directionality adding to the ambience, pitting you in the middle of whatever’s happening. English subtitles are also available.
Johnnie To’s Drug War isn’t out to change the rules of the genre, but To and his screenplay never stops raising its own stakes as the tension mounts to a boiling point. At first I thought maybe the film would bare more in common with Breaking Bad. But, as I said, it definitely sits alongside To’s previous gangster outings, the Infernal Affairs series, or any of Scorsese’s gangster features. It may not be a complete masterpiece, but for the 107 minute runtime, Drug War keeps you guessing right up until the very end and is more than worthy of a blind buy for suspense connoisseurs.
Cover art and photo courtesy Well Go USA