Rome Festival Adds Johnnie To's 'Drug War' as Second Surprise Competition Film

Johnnie To
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The movie had been rumored this summer to be part of the lineup, but wasn't part of the official program unveiled a month ago.

ROME – Johnnie To’s thriller Du zhan (Drug War) will premiere at the International Rome Film Festival after all, after the festival said Sunday that the film would be the second and final surprise selection added to the festival’s 15-film competition.

Du zhan is the first ever film shot in mainland China for To, a native of Hong Kong. The film tells the story of a police captain’s efforts to break up a major cocaine ring with the help of an arrested drug lord.

Earlier, the festival announced that Yi Wu Si Er (Back to 1942) from Chinese director Feng Xiaogang was the first of the two surprise films in the main competition.

Dating back to 2006, when first Rome artistic director Marco Mueller first used the concept of a surprise film while at the Venice Film Festival, all of his surprise films have been from Asia and in five of seven years they were from either China or Hong Kong.

Mueller has said the identities of the surprise films are announced late in order to help the directors involved sidestep problems with censors in their home country.

Mueller and To have long ties: To brought three films to Venice during Mueller’s eight-year tenure there. In August, the two reportedly had a warm meeting at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where To was presented with a Golden Leopard lifetime achievement prize. That meeting sparked speculation that To’s Du zhan, which was not finished at the time, could be headed to Rome. But the film was conspicuous in its absence when the festival’s lineup was announced a month ago.

With the late addition of Du zhan, the biggest name films rumored to be headed to the festival will indeed screen during the event with the exception of Quentin Tarrantino's Spaghetti Western homage Django Unchained, which was not completed in time to be part of the event.

The seven-year-old festival, which got underway on Friday, concludes Nov. 17.