HKMDB Daily News

November 18, 2012

Drug War (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 3:59 pm

Drug War
Du shan

(Hong Kong-China)

A Milkyway Film production in association with Beijing Hairun Pictures, Huaxua Film Distribution, CCTV 6 Movie Channel. (International sales: Media Asia, Hong Kong.) Produced by Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai. Executive producers, Liu Yanming, Gu Guoqing, Yan Xiaoming. Directed by Johnnie To. Screenplay, Wai Ka-fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi.
With: Sun Honglei, Louis Koo, Huang Yi, Gao Yungxiang, Wallace Chung, Hao Ping, Gan Tingting, Cheng Taishen, Li Zhenqi, Guo Tao, Li Jing, Xiao Cong, Gao Xin. (Mandarin dialogue)

Hong Kong action maestro Johnnie To takes his genre filmmaking savvy to the mainland in “Drug War,” a nail-biter that’s actually quite light on action but so well-scripted and shot, it’s nonetheless edge-of-your-seat material. Co-penned by regular collaborator and fellow Milkyway producer Wai Ka-fai, To’s procedural follows a group of Chinese cops who get a busted drug-factory owner to work with them on a complex sting operation in and around Tianjin, China’s fourth-largest metropolis. More realistic than the helmer’s prior actioners, the pic should prove a refreshingly different good time for To’s genre fans worldwide.

Billed as the director’s first action film set in mainland China (his recent romantic comedies already crossed the border), “Drug War” doesn’t much feel like his Hong Kong-set crimers (”Election,” “Sparrow”), despite the fact that it stars To regular Louis Koo (convincingly dubbed into Mandarin). Violence is only sparingly used, reportedly to comply with censorship rules, and what’s there isn’t particularly stylized, in keeping with the film’s generally gritty tone.

The always reliable Koo plays Timmy Choi, whose amphetamine production plant has exploded, and who’s now on the run, literally foaming at the mouth. A scene in which he loses control of his car and crashes into a glass-fronted restaurant is about as action-packed as the film gets in the first hour. Instead, To pays minute attention to a covert anti-drug operation overseen by Capt. Zhang (mainland star Sun Honglei, “Lethal Hostage”), who recruits Choi — who’s facing the death penalty — so police can trace his pipeline.

The early going effectively crosscuts between Choi’s increasingly erratic driving before his crash and an elaborate operation run by Zhang’s team at a highway tollbooth, where a bus full of drug mules is intercepted. The subsequent scene at a hospital, where Timmy is taken following his accident, and where police are forcing the mules to, um, extricate their smuggled goods, brings the two stories together and underlines To’s commitment to detailed realism.

The film’s midsection sees Choi introduce Zhang to his contacts in two subsequent meetings, with Zhang adopting a false identity in both encounters. The setup is impressively constructed and written, especially the inspired idea to let Zhang play the shady figure he’s met in the first meeting, the hysterically laughing Brother Haha (Hao Ping), during the second rendezvous, offering Sun the perfect opportunity to show off his acting chops. To’s directorial mastery also comes into full view here, infusing a real sense of menace, tension and even humor into two long scenes that essentially show a small group of people sitting around a table talking.

Shot in cold-paletted widescreen by To’s regular d.p., Cheng Siu-keung, the pic offers some visual spectacle in one scene set in Tianjin’s enormous seaport, where all the boats are ordered to move out at the same time, and in another featuring a shootout at a factory run by deaf-mute employees (Guo Tao, Li Jing). This latter sequence is staged sans musical accompaniment, almost skirting documentary territory. That said, the pic generates some laughs, courtesy of Brother Haha’s over-the-top behavior, as well as the deaf-mutes, and an almost farcical subplot involving two stoned drivers (Xiao Cong, Gao Xin). Though they provide comic relief, these storylines tend to undermine the otherwise matter-of-fact tone.

To is more interested in the nuts and bolts of high-level police work than in getting auds inside the heads of the characters, and he plays things in a coolly detached mode throughout, a feeling further reinforced by the film’s bleak wintry settings. This clinically observant approach is particularly clear in the prolonged final shootout, which deliberately ignores the usual rules about the fates of heroes vs. villains, and also tastefully refrains from exploiting a dramatic situation to manipulate audience sympathies. The result simply feels arbitrary and messy, and therefore all the more real.

Tech package is top-drawer, with Xavier Jameux’s percussion-heavy score further helping to maintain rhythm and tension.

Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm-to-HD), Cheng Siu-keung; editors, David Richardson, Allen Leung; music, Xavier Jameux; production designer, Horace Ma; costume designer, Boey Wong; sound (Dolby Digital), Ricky Yip; line producer, Elaine Chu; action director, Yick Tin Hung; second unit director, Soi Cheang; assistant directors, Lo Kam Fu, Jeff Cheung, Jack Lai; casting, Ma Jie, Guo Zhongyu. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Nov. 14, 2012. Running time: 105 MIN.

November 16, 2012

Drug War (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 12:50 pm

Drug War
11/16/2012 by Deborah Young

In Drug War, Hong Kong genre master Johnnie To gives a superlative lesson on how to give an updated, thoroughly engrossing twist to the classic cops-and-robbers chase. Following his relatively action-less financial thriller Life Without Principle (currently Hong Kong’s nominee for Oscar candidacy), To cuts a sweet slice of genre cake that pits the balletic efficiency of police operatives against the wiles of organized crime lords and leaves few characters standing by its bloody end. The first action film To has shot in mainland China, it brings a reported budget of $16 million of cool to the mainland, where drug stories are very, very rare. Shot and acted with flair, it has the look of a potential hit for its opener in China and HK this December. Genre film or not, its premiere raised the temperature of competition at the Rome Film Festival considerably.

Reteaming with his regular screenwriter and co-producer Wai Ka-fai (A Hero Never Dies, Fulltime Killer), To cuts to the chase, as it were, jettisoning all plot elements that don’t directly relate the battle of Sphinx-like police captain Zhang (Sun Honglei) and his nemesis, the handsome young drug lord Timmy Choi (Louis Koo.) Choi is introduceed in a simple but highly effective opening scene, weaving down the highway at high speed while foaming at the mouth, until he crashes through the glass walls of a restaurant in a spectacular end-of-ride.

Elsewhere, a dilapidated bus approaches a highway toll booth, under the watchful eye of a foxy young woman attendant, Xiao Bei (Crystal Huang.) Suddenly, the poor-looking bus passengers panic and make a run for it, and she leaps out to lead a surprise anti-drug operation, capturing them all. They have swallowed capsules of something potent and are made to painfully expel them while unsympathetic cops look on.

The stone-faced Xiao Bei, it turns out, works for Capt. Zhang, who head one of the coolest undercover narcotics teams on film. Telling Choi he’s sure to get the death sentence (in China it seems that producing 50 grams is sufficient, and he’s manufactured tons), they convince him to play ball and walk Zhang and Xiao Bei into the lion’s den. Masquerading as the jovial mega-drug dealer HaHa (Hao Ping) and his moll-wife, the two cops infiltrate a top level meeting in a swanky hotel, surrounded by an organization whose choreographed efficiency would make M’s MI6 blush. Switching costumes and hotel rooms with split-second timing, the police look like a regimented version of the Oceans Eleven team, complete with micro-cameras on cigarette holders.
Zhang discovers Choi runs a secret drug lab on the outskirts of the city, where an explosion has killed his wife and her brothers. Only later do the police uncover a second hidden factory where Choi’s loyal team of deaf-mutes fabricate the white stuff (whether heroin or coke is of little import to the story.)

The action proceeds at a consistently fast pace, pushed by the pulsating beat of Xavier Jamaux’s music with barely space for a breather. Choi’s battered face begs the police to believe he’s on their side, but his shifty eyes speak otherwise. A harbor sequence confirms the screenplay’s ability to re-invent genre clichés in a last, tension-heavy masquerade where $30 million in heroin gets bartered in the midst of a fleet of fishing boats.

The satisfying end takes place in a wild and woolly shoot-out in front of an elementary school, a bloodbath so punishing that the good guys and bad guys can hardly be distinguished anymore. Perhaps that’s the point, however: the thing the links the cops’ silent teamwork and the criminals’ ruthless organization is the blinders they wear, excluding everything from their line of sight except their “mission.”

While the cast plays dead serious, etching their very distinct characters through action, To takes a playful approach shuffling the story elements and confusing the audience. Superior stunt-work gives even the most violent battles a realistic look, while scenes are swept along on an elegant stream of breath-taking shots and cinematography.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (competition), Nov. 15, 2012.
Production companies: Hairun Movies & TV Group (China), Milky Way Image Company (H.K.)
Cast: Louis Koo, Sun Honglei, Huang Yi (Crystal Huang), Michelle Ye, Lam Suet, Chung Wallace, Gao Yunxiang
Director: Johnnie To
Screenwriters: Wai Ka-fai, Yau Nai, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi
Producers: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai
Executive producers: Liu Yanming, Gu Guoqing, Yan Xiaoming
Director of photography: Cheng Siu-keung
Production designer: Horace Ma
Editor: Allen Leung
Music: Xavier Jamaux
Sales Agent: Media Asia
No rating, 107 minutes.


Drug War (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 12:46 pm

Drug War
16 November, 2012
By Lee Marshall

Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To’s first action film to be shot in mainland China is gritty, uncompromising and hugely exhilarating. It feels like a step forward for a director whose more recent bullet ballets – in particular Sparrow (2008) and Vengeance (2009) – had started to feel increasingly stylised. There’s nothing mannered about the anti-trafficking police operation charted in Drug War (Duzhan): perhaps mindful of his need to prove to the censors that he’s taking narcotics seriously, To spends less time choreographing conflict and more charting, at a breakneck pace, the messiness of a nasty, vicious war.

It’s proof of the maturity of the Chinese production sector that it has bankrolled a film that comes on like The French Connection meets The Wire, and features several scenes of in-your-face (and in-their-noses) drug use.

Of course, mainland audiences may not be given the benefit of a domestic release, but elsewhere this feisty, pugnacious number will positively benefit from its pioneering location, among international cineastes curious to see the mean streets of the New China. To followers and Asian genre fans should embrace the film warmly, and auxiliary prospects look upbeat. The film was shoehorned into the Rome film festival at the last minute.

To’s determination not to glamourise his subject is clear from the get-go, when after a stake-out at a motorway toll booth that nets a haul of drug mules, we’re shown, in grubby detail, the painful excretion and washing of the drug-packed ovules these peasant pawns have swallowed. In the same hospital, Timmy (Koo, dubbed into Mandarin) is being kept under police watch while being treated for skin lesions caused by an explosion at the drug factory he operates. Re-apprehended after an escape attempt, a convalescent Timmy offers to help police narcotics unit captain Zhang (Honglei) in return for commutation of his death penalty (which is automatically handed out to large-scale drug producers and traffickers in China) to life imprisonment.

So begins a wary partnership between the tough yet circumspect old police officer and Louis Koo’s entrepreneurial young drug lieutenant, who helps to set up a meeting with his boss Brother HaHa (Ping), named after his trademark laugh. The jeopardy factor is nicely upped when, in order to get to the higher echelons of the drug supply and distribution chain, Zhang starts to impersonate Haha, supported by serious young policewoman Yang Xiaobei (Yi) in the role of the drug baron’s flouncy floozy wife. Helped by two out of town cops who have been trailing a lorry full of drug factory chemicals, Zhang’s team begin to home in on shadowy Uncle Bill (Zhenqi), who may or not be the regional drug world’s Mr Big.

Surveillance operations, stake-outs and undercover infiltrations succeed each other at breathless speed, taking us from luxe hotels to a drug factory presided over by two deaf-mute brothers to new-rich Chinese nightclubs with glam cabaret floorshows. The film is set in and around Tianjen, Beijing’s rapidly growing seaport, which is presented here as a place of savage, unregulated modernity. A scene in which Zhang, posing as Brother HaHa, orders the whole Tianjen fishing fleet out to sea to impress Uncle Bill, is rich with symbolic resonance, as we see dozens of merry Peoples’ Republic pennants flapping in the wind as the boats set sail, apparently at the beck and call of a sleazy drug baron.

Not since PTU (2003) and Breaking News (2004) has To really got under the skin of a working police unit to this extent. There’s not much psychological shading, to be sure, but little observations like the dash of the two out of town cops to urinate by the side of the road when they’re finally given time off by superior officer Zhang wryly nail the trials of the job, and the team exudes loyal esprit de corps without the need for heavy buddy-love dialogue.

It’s this understated solidarity, and the higher stakes of crime and its prevention in mainland China, that make the shootouts (especially the final school bus sequence) feel a lot more bruisingly than the urban gun dance of Sparrow or Exiled. The dirty realism is amplified by To’s use of natural light and anyway-they-fall camera angles: with almost a TV look at times, Drug War does its best to avoid the conventional noirish atmosphere and Hong Kong gangster aesthetic that To himself helped to define.

Production companies: Beijing Hairun Pictures Co Ltd, Huaxia Film Distribution Co Ltd, CCTV 6 Movie Channel

International sales: Media Asia Group Holdings Ltd,

Producers: Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai

Executive producers: Liu Yanming, Gu Guoqing, Yan Xiaoming

Screenplay: Wai Ka Fai, Yau Nai Hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi

Cinematography: Cheng Siu Keung

Editor: Allen Leung

Production designer: Jackson Ha

Music: Xavier Jamaux

Main cast: Sun Honglei, Louis Koo, Huang Yi, Gao Yunxiang, Wallace Chung, Li Guangije, Hao Ping, Gan Tingting, Chang Taishen, Li Zhenqi, Guo Tao, Li Jing

December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011 [HKMDB Daily News]

FBA: Magic to Win review

Lame college fantasy involving a girls’ volleyball team and battling “magicians”.

FBA: A Big Deal review

Unoriginal get-rich-quick New Year comedy hobbled by a clumsily written script.

CRI: Flowers of War review

Does the film deserve the commotion it has caused?

CF: ”The Flowers of War:” A Special Case for China’s Film Industry

CF:From Art House to Box Office

Director Xu Jinglei is exploring less experimental and more commercial territory.

CF: ”Drug War” Holds Promo Event in Tianjin

Huang Yi, Sun Honglei (Sina-gallery)

CF: ”Hyperspace Rescue” Trailer Released

Hyperspace Rescue is the only film about “time travel” that integrates a large number of elements such as Hong Kong and mainland humour.

Director Chi Chung Lam also helped make the films “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu”. He’s confident the film will be a hit at the box office. (Sina-gallery)

CF: First Promotional Trailer of “I Do” Released

The movie is now in post-production and will be released on February 14 in time for the Valentine’s Day slot.

FBA: Flowers widens lead on Swords - Box Office News

CRI: Actress Zhou Xun Tries on Directing

The trailer of “Five Demon Traps” features actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as a demon killer.

CF: Tony Leung in Zhou Xun’s Micro Movie

The movie will hit the national screens on January 12.

Hosted by Huayi Brothers, a concert of songs from prestigious Chinese director Feng Xiaogang’s movies will be held on January 3, 2012.

“Glory Days” cast attend a publicity event in Chuxiong, Yunnan Province

Co-director Eric Tsang

Xiong Xin-Xin

Felix Wong, Ni Hongjie, Max Mok

Rose Chan, Gigi Leung, Ni Hongjie

Rose Chan demonstrates “Blocking the Devil’s Kiss” (Sina)

“Wanted” posters showing Nick Cheung appeared on the streets of Hong Kong on Christmas Eve.

The posters were to promote the Roy Chow film “Nightfall” co-starring Simon Yam.


The year in review: Pop Stop

TaipeiTimes: Worst-case scenarios

The Golden Shrimp Awards name and shame Taiwan’s greatest cinematic blunders

Just Call Me Nobody won the Golden Shrimp Worst Film of the Year Award.

A1: Jet Li to focus on combating injustice(CF)

CF: Jet Li Jack of Many Trades, Master of Kungfu

A1: Laughing Gor gets serious

Laughing Gor was the only person who wasn’t laughing at the recent 44th TVB Anniversary Awards on Dec 5.

MSN: Benny Chan has yet to donate

…when Josephine Siao — veteran actress and founder of the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation — was questioned about Benny’s donation at a recent event, she said, “I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me about this. I heard that the media had placed him under tremendous pressure.”

“We welcome any donation from kind souls. In truth, there are many perpetrators who have not been caught. If each of them makes a donation, we’ll be rich. I hope Benny can help to drive this moment,” she added, when probed if the foundation had received the actor’s donation.

Josephine Siao Fong Fong

Foundation president, Josephine Siao thanks Stanley Ho’s 3rd wife for 10 consecutive years of support. (UDN)(Sina)

Fan Bingbing, 30, went to court last week to battle claims that she eloped with the 65-year-old actor Wang Xueqi, and she appears to be winning the war. 
MSN: Zhang Xinyu reacts to online verbal attacks

Despite the endless rumours, Xinyu’s career did not seem to be affected. The model is currently in the midst of filming Legend of Yue Fei and had made an appearance at a new car launch in Suzhou, China yesterday morning. She was said to have made a whopping six-figure paycheck, for a mere 20-minute appearance.

A1: Hong Kong remembers ‘Black Christmas’ of 1941

December 15, 2011

December 15, 2011 [HKMDB Daily News]

FBA: Universal boards Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi

The contemporary, Beijing-set story is the “spiritual journey of a young martial artist (Tiger Chen), whose fighting skills brings him to a realm opportunities and painful choices.”

CRI: Zhang Yimou’s Latest Epic Lauds Humanity in Wartime

A review of Beijing-based Jinghua Times described the film as “having both strong sound and visual effects as well as humanistic power,” calling it “very Oscarish.”

However, renowned critic Zhu Dake didn’t approve filmmakers to take advantage of a serious historical event to fulfil box office ambitions.

CF: Film Adds Depth to Wuxia

Although “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” is based on the iconic “New Dragon Gate Inn”, Tsui wanted to ensure originality in the new story while presenting the same characteristic morality and code of honor of those chivalrous men and women from the world of jianghu.

Although Monday’s premiere has drawn generous approval, the critics are not unanimous. Some have pointed out flaws in the movie’s 3D effects. In answer to this, Tsui Hark said the new movie is merely a knock on the door of innovation, a door that will lead China to new arenas in the film industry.

CF: Chen Kaige Surprises His Wife on set of his New Movie

Based on the popular online novel, “Please Forgive Me,” his new movie “Search” revolves around the problems caused by searching for human flesh on the Internet. It will finish its shooting schedule within three months in Ningbo and is slated for release in 2012.

CF: ”The Allure of Tears” Premieres in Hangzhou

Zhou Dongyu will likely skip most promotional activities due to year end college academic requirements. She had previously missed classes for her other recent film events already. (Sina-gallery)2

FBA: China seeks BO controls, limit on cinema ads

The draft contains 13 articles on forbidden content in movies made in China. [13 Noes]

CF: First Promotional Trailer of “Romancing in Thin Air” out

Horror film “Harpoon”’s release has been delayed even though post-production is completed and it has finally received the necessary state approvals. A Spring Festival release is now expected. The setting for the film is a desert island survival tale and has drawn much attention and expectations. (Sina)


Mo Xiaoqi, Hu Bing (Sina)

Return of the zombie movie? In “Crescent Moon Phantom”(lit.), a town is plagued by murders, rumors of zombie killings spread like wildfire. A female detective does not believe in zombies and tries to crack the mystery. Directed by Johnny Chen (Chen Long) and features young Mainland actors.


All of Ivy Chen’s scenes have been reportedly cut from Tsai Yueh-Hsun’s “Black & White, Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault”. In addition, Angelababy’s scenes have been resurrected. Her role as heroine was downgraded to supporting actress and practically invisible.. In a dramatic turnaround, Angelababy was revived but that meant Ivy Chen’s scenes had to go due to excessive length. Director Tsai said that it was not personal and had nothing to do with her terminating an agency contract with him. Other actors’ scenes, such as Paul Chun, Matt Wu and Ken Lin, were also trimmed to reduce the running time.

Ivy Chen, scenes deleted

A few days ago while doing publicity for Doze Niu’s “Love”, Chen sighed and said, “this is life, the director said the film is too long.” When she first heard the news, she broke down in tears but then distracted herself by throwing herself into her work on “Love” and accepted the reality. However, the cuts left a mark on Chen as she became worried about her scenes in “Love” being cut out and she often asked Doze Niu to see the editing.

Angelababy, scenes restored

Director Tsai Yueh-Hsun, the Decider


More on Black & White:

In movie news, the film Black and White, scheduled for release next month, is having woman trouble. The flick, based on the hugely successful police drama of the same name that hit TV screens in 2005, is clearly intended as the big release for the Lunar New Year season, and the production company has been pulling out all the stops in marketing the film.

Unfortunately for the film’s producers, two of its leading female stars are being uncooperative. Taiwanese actress Ivy Chen was incensed to discover that all the scenes in which she appeared had been left on the cutting-room floor, though she was given an acting credit. In response, she refused to participate in any of the marketing activities.

Meanwhile, Chinese actress Angelababy made exorbitant demands as a condition of coming to Taiwan to promote the film, including five-star accommodation and expensive spa treatments, but ultimately attended only a single press conference. TaipeiTimes: Pop Stop

Stills from trailer for Jingle Ma’s “Speed Angels”, opening Jan. 5

Cecilia Cheung, Rene Liu

Han Jae-suk, Tang Wei

Rene Liu and Cecilia Cheung come to blows


Racing edition of trailer

Lam Chi-Chung (as poet Li Bai), Wallace Huo

Lam Chi-Chung directs and acts in the upcoming time-travelling comedy “Super Reinforcement” (lit.) which opens January 13. Dylan Kuo, Lam Suet, Jing Tian and Cheung Tat-Ming co-star.(Sina)

Louis Koo and Sun Honglei will star in Johnnie To-Wai Ka-Fai “Drug War”. Filming will mainly take place in Tianjin. This is Sun’s first time working with Johnnie To. Specific roles have not been revealed but netizens polled said that expected Sun Honglei to play a villain.

Louis Koo, Sun Honglei

Sun Honglei

Sun Honglei (Lurk, TV series)  (Sina), 2

A1: Karen Mok is in love with married life

He has as appeared in a supporting role in a slew of TV dramas, with the most famous being the Lurk (Qian Fu) in 2008 where he played a secret service official.

Once billed as the largest amusement park in Asia, the unfinished “Wonderland” park now stands derelict, a worrying sign of China’s property market.

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