Saturday, September 28, 2013
Facing a death sentence, a criminal leader bargains for his life by helping the police infiltrate the underworld. Will he betray them? Do you even have to ask? Drug War’s premise may sound as generic as its title, but Johnnie To’s film is stranger than any of the familiar genre tropes it draws upon. Like a coke-addled tribute to M, the film lays bare the intertwining structures of the police and criminal worlds, and then shoots everyone in the head for good measure. What began as a terse procedural ends with such grisly violence that any distinction between cop and crook has been blasted apart in the crossfire. Fortunately, To has more on his mind than doodling in the blood spatter, although his intentions only begin to become clear late in the film with a surprise reference to Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, of all things (it turns out chaining your main character to a corpse is a metaphor made for any occasion). By the time we reach the climactic schoolyard shootout, the clinical detachment of the early scenes has long since melted into festering disgust, leading into a conclusion that is as inevitable as it brutal. Drug lord and prison guard both peddle their wares, and the war begins and ends with a needle: the junkie’s syringe or the state’s lethal injection. Pick your poison.