Drug War (film)

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Drug War
Drug War poster
Directed byJohnnie To
Written by
Produced by
Edited byAllen Leung
Music byXavier Jamaux
Distributed byMedia Asia Distribution (Hong Kong)
Variance Films (North America)
Huaxia Film Distribution
Release dates
  • November 15, 2012 (2012-11-15) (Rome Film Festival)
  • April 2, 2013 (2013-04-02) (Mainland China)
  • April 18, 2013 (2013-04-18) (Hong Kong)
  • July 26, 2013 (2013-07-26) (North America)
Running time
105 minutes
  • China
  • Hong Kong[1]
Box officeUS$24,676,341[3]
Drug War
Simplified Chinese毒战
Traditional Chinese毒戰

Drug War (simplified Chinese: 毒战; traditional Chinese: 毒戰) is a 2012 action thriller film[4] directed and produced by Johnnie To. The film stars Sun Honglei as Police Captain Zhang, who partners with a drug lord named Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) after Choi is arrested. To avoid the death penalty, Choi agrees to reveal information about his partners' methamphetamine ring. Zhang starts to harbor doubts about Choi's honesty as the police begin to take on the drug ring.

The film premiered at the Rome Film Festival on November 15, 2012. It has received positive reviews.


Fleeing from an explosion at his drug production facility, Timmy Choi crashes his car into a restaurant and as he revives he is captured by Captain Zhang Lei. Realizing that he will receive the death penalty for his crimes, he bargains information on his colleagues to survive.

First, he introduces Captain Zhang Lei as "Uncle Bill", to become a supplier to Haha, who owns a port and can distribute drugs to other countries. Then Captain Zhang Lei poses as Haha to the real "Uncle Bill". Then Choi goes to his factory where he meets with two mute brothers, his employees. Choi plants recording devices in his factory, setting up everyone in it. Then they set up the real Haha with the real Uncle Bill. However, an attempt to capture the mute brothers at the factory fails, and they escape through a hidden tunnel.

Captain Zhang is livid at Choi for withholding information about the secret exit, which has cost the lives of several police team members. Choi pleads for a second chance as "Uncle Bill" is really just a front for seven other powerful Hong Kong gangsters whom he did not wish to rat out because 2 of them are his relatives: one his brother, the other is his godfather.

The next day, Captain Zhang poses as Haha again and meets with "Uncle Bill". They negotiate a deal to distribute drugs using Haha's port, while Choi identifies the 7 gangster bosses. Later they discuss terms of the deal at a nightclub, where Captain Zhang, posing as Haha, accuses "Uncle Bill" of being a cop, pretending to be infuriated, then leaving. The big 7 then confront him in the parking garage, revealing their identities and confirming their business relationship.

On the day after that, Choi leads the big 7 and their entourage to the port, but instead pulls the entourage in front of a primary school as parents and children are arriving for the day. Choi removes his wires and reveals to the big 7 that he has ratted them out and they are surrounded by cops. Realizing that something has gone wrong, Captain Zhang and his officers close in. A shootout ensues, and nearly all of the gangsters, along with several officers, are killed. Choi escapes in a school bus. However, he crashes into the escaping mute brothers as they are fleeing, believing that Choi has ratted them out. Another shootout takes place. Captain Zhang, wounded, arrives with several other wounded comrades to stop the Mute brothers. Though the Mute brothers are killed, the cops are all severely wounded from the shootout. Choi who was handcuffed earlier by Zhang escapes and uses the opportunity to fatally gun down Zhang and the other officers, but Zhang is able to handcuff himself to Choi's leg before he dies. Choi is then captured by SWAT reinforcements before he can escape.

The film ends with Choi begging, to no avail, for another chance to live by trading more information on other gangsters before he is executed by lethal injection.



The film was billed as To's first action film to be entirely shot and set in Mainland China.[1][2][5] To had previously shot the romance film Romancing in Thin Air in China.[1]


Variety wrote that the film does not have the same feeling as To's similar Hong Kong films such as Election or Sparrow and that the film was also "actually quite light on action."[2] Film Business Asia noted that "To has modified his style to take account of the Mainland's different look and more spacious geography, as well as appearing to be newly energised by the challenge of what he can get away with."[1]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Organization Award category Recipients and nominees Result
Online Film Critics Society Awards 2013 Best Film Nominated
Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Best Editing Allen Leung Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Best Foreign Language Film Won
14th Chinese Film Media Awards[6] Best Film Won
Best Director Johnnie To Won


Drug War premiered at the Rome Film Festival on November 15, 2012.[1][5] The film was the second "surprise film" from Asia at the festival, with the first being Back to 1942.[5][7] The film was released on April 2, 2013 in China and earned US$13,070,000 for its opening week, coming in third place at the Chinese box office behind The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel and Finding Mr. Right.[8] The film grossed a total of $23,180,000 in China.[3] The film opened in Hong Kong on April 18, 2013 and grossed US$376,577 in its opening weekend, making it the second highest-grossing film at the Hong Kong box office, beaten only by Oblivion.[9] The film grossed a total of US$639,155 in Hong Kong.[3]

The film continues to maintain popularity and was highlighted in the Masters section of the 2013 San Diego Asian Film Festival.[10]

Drug War was released on October 15, 2013 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.[11]

In the United Kingdom, the film's television airing was watched by 142,400 viewers on Channel 4 in 2016, making it the year's most-watched foreign language film on Channel 4 and seventh most-watched foreign language film on UK television.[12]


Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 94% based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. The critical consensus states: "A taut, solidly constructed action thriller with uncommon intelligence, Drug War delivers exhilarating set pieces without skimping on sophisticated filmmaking."[4] At Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received a score of 86, based on 19 reviews.[13] IndieWire gave the film a B rating, stating that the film confirms director Johnnie To's status as "a first-rate genre filmmaker. That said, the film does not innovate or break any new ground".[14] Variety praised the film, stating that it was "light on action but so well-scripted and shot, it's nonetheless edge-of-your-seat material."[2]

At the 7th Asian Film Awards, Drug War was nominated for Best Film, Best Screenwriter (Wai Ka-fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi), and Best Editing (David Richardson, Allen Leung).[15]


In 2014, it was announced that there would be a South Korean remake of the film.[16] In July 2017, the film was confirmed to be directed by Lee Hae-young, starring Cho Jin-woong in the lead role and Ryu Jun-yeol as the drug dealer. The theatrical release was planned for the following year.[17][18][19][20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Elley, Derek (November 1, 2012). "Drug War". Film Business Asia. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Hoeij, Boyd Van (November 18, 2012). "Drug War". Variety. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c "Drug War". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Drug War (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Frater, Patrick (November 11, 2012). "Rome Hooked on Drug War". Film Business Asia. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  6. ^ Ma, Kevin (October 13, 2014). "Drug War tops China Media Awards". Film Business Asia. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Lyman, Eric J. (November 11, 2012). "Rome Festival Adds Johnnie To's 'Drug War' as Second Surprise Competition Film". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  8. ^ "China Box Office". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  9. ^ "Hong Kong Box Office". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  10. ^ "San Diego Asian Film Festival 2013".
  11. ^ "Drug War (2012) – Releases". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  12. ^ Statistical Yearbook 2017 (PDF). United Kingdom: British Film Institute (BFI). 2017. pp. 153–4. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  13. ^ "Drug War". Metacritic. CNET Networks, Inc. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  14. ^ "Rome Film Festival Review: How Johnnie To's 'Drug War' Confirms the Director's Skill". IndieWire. November 15, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  15. ^ "7th AFA Nominees and Winners". Asian Film Awards. Archived from the original on May 30, 2013. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  16. ^ Conran, Pierce (28 May 2014). "Johnny TO's DRUG WAR to Be Remade in Korea". KoBiz. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  17. ^ Conran, Pierce (3 July 2017). "Director LEE Hae-young Readies for DRUG WAR". KoBiz. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  18. ^ Jung-kyoon, Kim (5 July 2017). "'Drug War' unveils star-studded cast". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  19. ^ "DRUG WAR Remake Features Final Performance by KIM Joo-hyuk".
  20. ^ "조진웅X류준열X故김주혁 '독전', 5월 24일 개봉 확정". 10 April 2018.

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