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Home / Articles / Arts / Film /  A letter to Johnnie To
. . . .
Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013

A letter to Johnnie To

Hong Kong action film ‘Drug War’ leads our list of movies screening around town

By Glenn Heath Jr.
film2 Drug War

Dear Johnnie To: As a longtime devotee of your graceful cinematic style, deeply rooted themes of conflicted loyalty and an admirer of your great taste in food, I welcome you to San Diego. It's insane to think it took 50 feature films made during the course of 25 years for your work to finally arrive, but I guess that's the film world for you. Insane. 

The San Diego Asian Film Festival has screened your work before, like the blissful Don't Go Breakin' My Heart, thanks in large part to the efforts of artistic director Brian Hu. But I'm ecstatic that Drug War, an action masterpiece that nestles a striking examination of China's judicial extremism inside a heart-pounding chase film, will be your proper local theatrical debut.

Drug War is one of your more relentless efforts. It immediately dives into an intricate plot of cops and robbers already in full motion, where one drug bust in Jinhai, China, seamlessly folds into another greater narcotics pursuit. From here, the narrative billows out like the plume cloud of smoke seen in the first de-saturated frame.

Calculating qualities apply to both sides of the law in Drug War, yet all the planning and plotting are for not in the end. The dynamic final shootout outside of a primary school shows how quickly things can fall apart and how desperate we are to survive, like that smiling cockroach played by one of your regulars, Louis Koo.

It's all very circular. Here we have professionals and bullets and cars tirelessly crashing into each other until the inevitable comes, leaving literal and symbolic wreckage to consider. 

Your Drug War—which opens Friday, Aug. 23, at AMC Mission Valley Cinemas—paints Mainland China as a series of social and thematic roundabouts where citizens keep tripping over each other in glorious cinematic fashion. It's pure bliss. 

Sincerely,

—Glenn Heath Jr. 

Opening

Austenland: A single, 30-something woman (Keri Russell) obsessed with Jane Austen sinks her life savings into a lavish English vacation to an Austen-themed manor hoping to find her Mr. Darcy. 

Cutie and the Boxer: Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary about renowned boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his artist wife, Noriko, won the award for Best Director at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. 

Drug War: Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s absorbing and relentless cops vs. criminals thriller explores the pervasive and devastating nature of drug smuggling in Mainland China. See our review on Page 24.

Exitos del Cine Latino: A celebration of Latino film, music and art presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival. Screens at Digiplex Mission Valley Cinemas and Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. 

The Hunt: Mads Mikkelsen (NBC’s Hannibal) stars as a humble school teacher accused of an unthinkable crime in a small-town Danish community.  

Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West: The legendary explorers’ famous journey is re-created here, depicting the strenuous hardships and gorgeous scenery in equal measure. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: Clary Fray (Lily Collins) finds out truths about her past and bloodline when her mom is attacked and taken from their home in New York City by a demon.  

Oceanside International Film Festival: The fest will include features, shorts and documentaries by students and professionals alike. Runs Thursday, Aug. 22, through Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Star Theater in Oceanside.

Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: Help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the famous animation roadshow featuring special guest Billy West (Ren and Stimpy, Futurama). Opens Saturday, Aug. 24 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location.

The World’s End: The creative team behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz return with this sci-fi comedy about a group of estranged childhood friends who reunite for an epic pub-crawl, only to find a menacing alien presence occupying their home town. See our feature on Page 22.

You’re Next: An affluent family’s annual get-together turns bloody when a band of animal-masked invaders begins picking them off one by one. 

One Time Only 

Zoolander: Watch Ben Stiller bring his wacky Saturday Night Live character to the big screen in this comedy about a fashion model who’s brainwashed to kill a public figure. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido. 

Point Break: Kathryn Bigelow’s death-defying action film stars Keanu Reeves as an undercover FBI agent tasked with taking down a crew of bank-robbing surfers. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21 at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star in this surreal fable from writer / director Charlie Kaufman about a man who decides to wipe away his memories to lead a life of blissful ignorance. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at Arclight La Jolla.

To Have and Have Not: American ex-pat Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is up to his eyeballs in trouble when he transports a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife across the country in wartime France. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 22 and 23, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.

Rise of the Guardians: This is what happens when Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost get together to save the world. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, at Robb Field in Ocean Beach.

Gianni Stecchino: Roberto Benigni is a good-hearted but naïve country boy who’s happy driving a school bus for disabled children, but when Maria lures him to Sicily, he becomes entangled in her look-alike husband’s troubles, to riotous effect. Screens outdoors at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, in Little Italy’s Amici Park. 

Thunderball: James Bond (Sean Connery) travels by air, land and underwater submarine to defeat SPECTRE in the sunny Bahamas. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24 and 25, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.

Mystery Kung Fu Theater: The San Diego Asian Film Festival teams up with The Film Geeks to present a surprise Kung Fu movie. Something great will screen at 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. 

Brazil: Terry Gilliam’s mind-bending masterpiece is so forward-thinking that you might see shades of your own post-modern techno-crazy life in its narrative. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at Arclight Cinemas in La Jolla. 

Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners: This documentary from Shola Lynch mixes original footage and archival clips to present a gripping account of the events that turned a young University of California philosophy professor into a controversial political icon in the late 1960s. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.

The Princess Bride: Director Rob Reiner turns a medieval-damsel-in-distress movie into a playful and rambunctious romance about everlasting love. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.

Blazing Saddles: The classic Mel Brooks western / musical / comedy still feels fresh and subversive to this day. Quote away. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.

Now Playing

The Act of Killing: Joshua Oppenheimer’s provocative documentary asks Indonesian paramilitaries responsible for murdering 2.5 million communists in 1965 to re-create stories about the killings in whatever way they wish. Ends Aug. 22 at the Ken Cinema.

Coral Reef of Adventure: This IMAX film takes you through many of the diverse areas where coral reefs are crucial habitats, from Tahiti to the Rangiroa atoll. Ends Aug. 22 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

Ghost Graduation: A group of ghosts must rely on a teacher with paranormal abilities to help them graduate high school. 

The History of Future Folk: A sci-fi comedy about the origin story of the real-life alien bluegrass band Future Folk and their experiences playing New York venues for more than a decade. Ends Aug. 22 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

In a World…: Lake Bell wrote, directed and stars in this film about an underachieving vocal coach who makes a play at becoming a voiceover star, following in her famous father’s footsteps. 

Jobs: The life and times of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), from college dropout to one of the most respected and revered entrepreneurs of his time. 

Kick-Ass 2: Costumed heroes Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnston) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are back fighting crime in this sure-to-be bloody sequel to the popular 2010 film. 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves as a butler in the White House for seven consecutive presidents, witnessing shifts in civil rights and foreign policy from a fascinating vantage point.

Paranoia: Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford play corporate gangsters who square off against each other using poor Liam Hemsworth as a pawn. 

The Spectacular Now: An alcoholic high-school senior (Miles Teller) romances an inexperienced fellow student (Shailene Woodley) and inadvertently falls in love. 

Terms and Conditions May Apply: The timely issue of Internet privacy is smartly explored in this documentary by director Cullen Hoback. Ends Aug. 21 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

Elysium: After being diagnosed with a terminal disease, a factory worker (Matt Damon) attempts to infiltrate a manmade space habitat where the world’s wealthy now live in permanent luxury. Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9). 

Lovelace: Amanda Seyfried stars in this biopic about Linda Lovelace, the legendary porn star who overcame her abusive husband to take control of her life outside the industry. 

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: The titular son of Poseidon must embark on a quest to the Sea of Monsters in order to stop a rising tide of ancient evil. 

Planes: The kids will probably do flips for this animated Disney film about a crop-dusting plane who dreams of competing in a famous aerial race. 

We’re the Millers: In order to sneak a huge Mexican weed shipment into the U.S., a veteran pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) creates a fake family in hopes of bypassing authorities. Co-starring Jennifer Aniston.

2 Guns: Plenty of bullets will be spent in this action comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington as dueling law-enforcement officers trying to clear their names. 

Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s latest comedy showcases the amazing Cate Blanchett as an entitled 1-percenter who experiences a harrowing fall from grace.

Blackfish: SeaWorld and its potentially corrupt business practices take a shellacking in this documentary about the killer whale responsible for three deaths during its time in captivity.

Smurfs 2: Another Smurfs movie, because why not? 

Storm Surfers 3D: Surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones travel the globe seeking the ultimate wave, in 3-D.

The Wolverine: Hugh Jackman reprises his iconic role as the immortal clawed X-Man battling a brutal band of Yakuza in modern Japan. 

The Conjuring: Ghosts and demons haunt a large suburban family who just moved into a rickety Rhode Island home with a dark past. It’s directed by horror maestro James Wan (Insidious, Saw).

Turbo: A normal garden snail finds that a freak accident has given him some unexpected powers in the speed department, allowing him to compete in the Indy 500. 

Grown Ups 2: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James return for another round of juvenile debauchery in this sequel to the 2010 comedy.

Pacific Rim: From the mind of Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro: The world is under attack by reptilian monsters, so mankind resorts to building gigantic robots as the last line of defense.

The Way, Way Back: A 14-year-old boy finds self-worth during a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her combative new boyfriend (Steve Carell).

20 Feet From Stardom: Backup singers for today’s superstars finally take center stage in this music documentary featuring a range of inspirational stories about artistic endurance and passion. Ends Aug. 22 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.

Despicable Me 2: Gru (Steve Carell) and his army of minions attempt to transcend their roles as villains and save the world in this sequel to the popular 2010 animated film. 

The Heat: Yet another riff on the classic buddy comedy, this time starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as polar-opposite cops tasked with capturing a brutal drug lord. From Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.

Monsters University: Professional frighteners and quibbling buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are back for Pixar’s first-ever prequel set during their wild college days.

Much Ado About Nothing: The Avengers director Joss Whedon steps out of his comfort zone and updates the Bard’s classically romantic skirmish of wits with this jazzy black-and-white ensemble piece. 

This is the End: It’s the end of the world as we know it, and the Judd Apatow reunion tour feels just fine. Directed by Seth Rogen, this comedy apocalypse is sure to include multiple plumes of ganja smoke. 

Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego. 

Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels. 




 
 
 
 
 
 
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