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Drug War (2013)

Drug War


Average Rating: 8.1/10
Reviews Counted: 47
Fresh: 44
Rotten: 3

Critics Consensus: A taut, solidly constructed action thriller with uncommon intelligence, Drug War delivers exhilarating set pieces without skimping on sophisticated filmmaking.

Average Rating: 8/10
Reviews Counted: 17
Fresh: 16
Rotten: 1

Critics Consensus: A taut, solidly constructed action thriller with uncommon intelligence, Drug War delivers exhilarating set pieces without skimping on sophisticated filmmaking.


Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 2,212


Movie Info

Manufacturing just fifty grams of meth in China will earn you a death sentence, and Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) has manufactured tons of it. After a violent lab accident, he's in the custody of Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), and now he has only one chance to avoid execution: turn informant and help Zhang's undercover team take down the powerful cartel he's been cooking for. But as the uneasy allies are forced to compress months of police work into just 72 sleepless hours, the increasingly desperate … More

R (for strong violence, drug content and language)
Art House & International , Special Interest
Directed By:
Written By:
Yu Xi , Yau Nai-Hoi , Ka-Fai Wai , Nai-Hoi Yau , Ryker Chan
In Theaters:
Oct 29, 2013
Box Office:
Variance Films - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Drug War

All Critics (47) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (44) | Rotten (3) | DVD (1)

Another inkling of the style limitations perhaps most responsible for To's lower visibility stateside compared with, say, his countrymen John Woo and Wong Kar-wai.

Full Review… | October 17, 2013
Boston Globe
Top Critic

[To] gives a solid 90 minutes of edgy foreplay before delivering the goods.

Full Review… | August 22, 2013
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

Few other working filmmakers display this degree of visual sophistication and old-school craftsmanship.

Full Review… | August 15, 2013
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

As always, To delivers fantastic set pieces ...

Full Review… | August 15, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Drug War is a deeply intelligent, exhilarating and eminently satisfying adult crime story, one of the best thrillers you're likely to see this year.

Full Review… | August 15, 2013
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

An intense and constantly surprising crime story in which destiny seems to fold in on itself ...

Full Review… | August 8, 2013
Seattle Times
Top Critic

What the hell: "Drug War" is a taut, minor masterpiece. It felt like watching early Walter Hill for the first time-"The Driver," "Southern Comfort"-and that is a very good feeling indeed.

Full Review… | April 8, 2014

Almost perfect.

Full Review… | April 8, 2014
Movie Mezzanine nimble as a ballet dancer, even while dancing in muck.

Full Review… | January 10, 2014

A nicely tangled, smartly paced and cold little thriller-nothing more, nothing less.

Full Review… | December 27, 2013
Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)

The most purely enjoyable action film of the year, and I can only hope the inevitable American remake doesn't screw it up too badly

Full Review… | December 26, 2013

The routine police procedural crime drama has dedicated Chinese narcotics cops closing in on a big-time drug manufacturer in a risky undercover operation.

Full Review… | December 20, 2013
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

This film about cops and drug dealers in China is a lot like a story set in the Old West with outlaws and lawmen engaged in gun battles. There probably is a point to all this conflict that is lost in the translation.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
Laramie Movie Scope

Visually, it's a gritty throwback that's certain to please genre aficionados.

Full Review… | December 11, 2013

Not only does the film never question the ethics of a war on drugs in which dealers and manufacturers are subject to the death penalty, it appears to enthusiastically endorse it.

Full Review… | November 4, 2013
Film Comment Magazine

"Drug War" may not add anything particularly new to the genre, but that doesn't make it any less of a thrilling ride.

Full Review… | October 14, 2013

Cops and robbers, drugs and money, and the brutal violence at the end of it all: Yes, Hong Kong action director Johnnie To is back in town.

Full Review… | October 4, 2013

To orchestrates a huge cast and multi-layered plot like the ringmaster of a three-ring circus, his explosive, nihilistic finale layered with betrayals.

Full Review… | September 29, 2013
Reeling Reviews

To's film is solidly directed, and brutal and unflinching in its depiction of the drug world at the center of the story.

Full Review… | August 30, 2013

Filled with intrigue, plot twists and monumental gunfights, it's an expertly crafted if at times quite violent affair.

Full Review… | August 23, 2013
Montreal Gazette

Like a cross between "The Wire" and "The French Connection," even if To's blood-drenched fatalism goes a little overboard by the end. Despite the familiarity, it's an impressive piece of work.

Full Review… | August 18, 2013

Audience Reviews for Drug War


Foreign films tend to be far better than mainstream Hollywood releases because they have a take no prisoners attitude, they're more confident in the way they're filmed, and they are much more exciting than many other films released by big studios. That is very much the case with Drug War, a film that effectively blends kinetic action, drama and thrills into one picture. The acting here is top notch, with not one single bad performance, the direction moves at a face pace to move the action along, and it makes for a truly riveting, and engaging film experience. I felt that the action scenes were well done, and overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much Drug War was good. This is a very well crafted picture that is a must watch for any genre fan. The script is solid and the story is very good and it mixes thrills, action perfectly well into one picture that manages to stand out among the more mainstream Hollywood efforts. If you're tired of the same old action thriller, Drug War is a better outing, one that is refreshing and riveting from start to finish. I expected a standard actioner with this film, but I got a film that really went beyond the action and went in depth with its storyline and that made this a memorable picture to watch. The idea is simple, the filmmakers are able to get much more out of the concept because they keep you involved with enough thrills at every turn, and it makes for a truly tense, action packed roller coaster ride from start to finish. If you want a well crafted action film, Drug War is such a film, brilliantly acted, directed and with a good story, this is a memorable film to watch, and one not to be missed.

Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer


After his meth lab explodes, leaving him scarred and his wife dead, Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) is apprehended by the Chinese police for a crime that warrants the death penalty. In the custody of Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), Choi sees only one option to avoid execution; turn traitor and help Zhang's undercover unit bring down the powerful cartel that he has been cooking for. As the stakes get higher, it becomes increasing unclear as to who has the upper hand, and who will dictate the endgame.

Director Johnny To is a master of the crime film, and with "Drug War," he's created a near masterpiece of the genre. He never convinces us of being in anything but complete control of his multifaceted thriller, and exudes an unparalleled confidence in every scene and phenomenal set piece.

To's electrifying picture recalls some of the best work of his great contemporaries. "Drug War" possesses the technical brilliance of Scorsese's "The Departed," the ground-level knowledge and surveillance of David Simon's "The Wire," the gritty realism of Michael Mann's best work, and by the end the blistering, double-fisted action of John Woo's prime. These elements don't come together as a derivative; To is a filmmaker at the top of his game, and makes the most of his cast, his influences, the Mainland setting, and a little of the grotesquerie that often has Hollywood shuddering; in a singular whole.

Disparate from most Hong Kong action films, "Drug War" is a methodical, meticulous procedural first, exploiting a street-smart screenplay that knows the Chinese crime scene; and if that statement is indeed false, it never feels less than authentic. Much of the intensity derives from dialogue exchanges, and how rigorous both the cops and criminals try to not get made. Because of this well paced, equally well played dynamic, we never know who we should root for, and that's exactly the point. Mr. To's drama is incredibly intense... but then he pulls out all the stops.

The last 20 minutes of "Drug War" is the show-stopping action set piece of the year. An extended shootout that's brutal, ambitious, and a masterpiece of it's kind. It's a marvel of physical filmmaking that also works as an unexpected plot device, violently flipping our conceived notions of these characters on their ear; clearing the way for a fittingly ironic, ice-cold conclusion.

"Drug War" might just be the best pure crime film of 2013. Technically and narratively stellar, it already seems like a minor classic of the genre.

Michael S

Super Reviewer

A drug kingpin falls into the police's laps when they discover him injured in a car crash, but can they trust the criminal's plan to save himself from execution by engineering a sting on his fellow cartel members? Superior police procedural with slick action sequences that hearkens back to the days of New Wave Hong Kong cinema, and explains why deaf-mutes make the best footsoliders in your drug army.

Greg S

Super Reviewer


An adrenaline charged rush of a movie concerning a drug manufacturer who is forced by the police to turn into an informant against the company he's producing the drugs for if he hopes to save himself from a sentence of lethal injection. While not heavy in action, the movie is so well shot, acted, and filled with characters that are interesting despite being absolutely slimy, it maintains your attention throughout its short running time. The ending picks up some steam before going full-force into a shocking conclusion. It may have a feel of familiarity about it in terms of plot, but the stakes are noticeably higher, as is the quality of filmmaking on display here.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

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