People have had a fascination for stories about the Police forever. It’s a fertile field that filmmakers can mine almost infinitely to create new and nuanced movies. Johnnie To taps into this resource for his latest film Drug War.

Drug War follows a tough as nails cop, Zhang Lei (Honglei Sun) as he busts a ring of small time drug runners. This bust leads him to Timmy Choi (Louis Koo), a medium level thug within a large drug cartel. Zhang gives Timmy the options of either helping the cops to bust the cartel or face the death penalty. Choi doesn’t think twice before he offers to do what ever the cops need in order to avoid the death penalty. This starts the strange partnership between the two men as they cut their way through the underworld of meth dealers in an effort to cut off the supply. From here on out it’s a series of slick infiltrations and jacked up action sequences, and that’s the best thing that could happen in this movie.

To’s film is a slow burn. As we follow Choi and Zhang through their plans we are introduced to some of the strangest crooks ever put to film. From the incessant laughing of a drug dealer named Ha Ha, to the menacing sign language of the mute brothers, every thug in this film is memorable. The film has been compared to The French Connection and The Wire, and with good reason. The procedural aspects of this film combined with the sheer cool factor of the undercover work make it a great addition to the genre.

Sun and Koo’s performances are top notch and basically make the movie. Both men are intense and terrifying when they need to be, but we also get a good sense of what each character is actually capable of. The fact that they never blur the lines between Zhang being a cop and Choi being a criminal is admirable in an era when these on-screen relationships are so often played for buddy style relationships.

Is Drug War opening weekend worthy?

If you’re into action movies, absolutely. This is a smart film with great performances. The pacing is a bit slow at first, but don’t let that throw you.

Drug War is opening Friday, August 9, 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check their website for details and showtimes.

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