An alternative summer action film opening at the IFC Center on July 26, and possibly China’s first cinematic dope opera, “Drug War” starts strong with a crazed crystal meth manufacturer (To regular Louis Koo) losing control of his innards and his car and winding up in the custody of a super-cool narcotics cop (mainland star Sun Honglei), with whom he is forced to cooperate in order to save his life. Evidently the Chinese penal code makes manufacturing methamphetamine a capital offense.
Because it was filmed in China, mainly around the southern city Tianjin, “Drug War” is (slightly) less violent than the usual To drama. Basically, it’s a streamlined non-stop police procedural — set over a three-day period — that careens from set piece to set piece. These include an elaborate toll-booth bust, a raid on a giant fortified meth factory staffed by deaf-mutes, a buy and bust staged in Tianjin’s huge harbor, an elaborate sting in which the cop has to impersonate a gangster referred to as Brother Ha-Ha for his nervous tic, and a number of elaborate automobile maneuvers that include what’s sometimes called a Chinese fire drill.
Cars are big. In its way, “Drug War” is an impacted road movie. As cops and criminals duel to the death, a big green truck filled with meth and piloted by a pair of stoned drivers plows through China towards the prolonged final shoot-out, which involves a massive traffic jam and erases most of the cast while leaving Koo’s drug-lord turned informer playing both sides right down to the end.
Image: Well Go USA/Variance Films