While at Fantasia Film Fest in Montreal, I was able to watch several great horror/thrillers and some that really weren’t so good. But the fest isn’t only known for it’s bevy of genre specific films. It’s also known for hosting foreign films of high calibre, high acclaim, and, in general, high interest. So on top of checking out several horror flicks I also went to see two cop action thrillers: Shield Of Straw, from director Takashi Miike (Lesson Of The Evil, Audition), and Drug War, from Johnnie To (Election, Fulltime Killer). Below are my mini reviews for both films!
The premise of this film is that Kunihide Kiyomaru (played by Battle Royale‘s Tatsuya Fujiwara) has raped and murdered a young girl. The grandfather of this young girl is a super rich CEO and has offered 1 billion yen to the man who finds and murders Kunihide. While there are some conditions, they are not enough to deter the country from pouring out into the streets looking for Kunihide, wanting his blood. Meanwhile, police detective Kazuki Mekari (Takao Ohsawa), along with a few select other officers, is tasked with picking up Kunihide from a police station on the other side of Japan and bring him to the proper precinct, all while fending off attacks from citizens, nurses, and even other police officers.
Shield Of Straw is very tense, very exciting, and definitely shinier than other Miike films. However, with the vast breadth of Miike’s work, it doesn’t feel out of place or forced. It still maintains elements of black humor amongst the strong violence and is a joy to sit through. Fujiwara’s portrayal of Kunihide is fantastic as he never once becomes a person that we care about, regardless of his predicament. Ohsawa’s intense determination is a rock that we can cling to throughout the film.
My only complaint about the film is that, much like other Miike films, it could use some trimming and editing. Some scenes are overly long but that doesn’t detract enough to make watching the film a grueling experience. Believe me when I say that there is a lot to enjoy here.
Drug War follows Captain Zhang Lei (Sun Honglei) as he makes an agreement with drug dealer Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) in order to bring down one of the biggest drug manufacturing groups in the area. Choi continuously tries to find a way out of his situation while Lei fantastically orchestrates the plans to bring these criminals down.
What makes Drug War so effective and enjoyable is how real it feels. This isn’t a film where the drug manufacturers are the biggest, baddest people in the land nor are the police supercops who shoot 80 rounds out of one clip. They are real, they are interesting, they have character. The story also moves along with great ebbs and flows, thus creating a very dynamic experience. The lulls make the violence that much more exciting which, in turn, make the dialogue heavy scenes rich and engaging.
Both Honglei and Koo play their parts with fantastic conviction, although I have to say that Honglei shines. His character is smart, witty, and entirely captivating. The writing is also stellar, allowing for some very tight, tense moments. Director Johnnie To puts the camera right in someones face when needed and then pulls it back to show the grand picture. The final shootout feels entirely real and entirely lacks the glossy Hollywood feel of something like Bad Boys. Overall, it’s a film that I highly recommend you watch if this is your type of movie.