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Review: Hong Kong thriller ‘Operation Mekong’ packs in plenty of drug saga chases and action sequences

Zhang Hanyu in the movie "Operation Mekong."
(Well Go USA Entertainment)

Fans of stylish, dense drug-trade sagas like Netflix’s “Narcos” will want to check out director Dante Lam’s “Operation Mekong,” a Hong Kong action-thriller about the real-life hunt for a murderous kingpin in the wilds of the Golden Triangle. Though more sensationalistic than serious, this film has a scale and an energy that rivals any Hollywood blockbuster.

Zhang Hanyu and Eddie Peng costar as experienced narcotics officers from different jurisdictions, thrown together to thwart notorious drug lord and pirate captain Naw Kham, whose operatives have been spreading violence and obstructing trade from Thailand to mainland China.

“Operation Mekong” was inspired by the 2011 “Mekong River Massacre,” and the international furor that followed. Don’t expect docu-realistic detail of what happened, though. This film is framed more like a straightforward buddy cop picture, with flatly functional dialogue to set up the next chase scene.

Lam packs the movie with white-knuckle action sequences, set in eye-catching locations, teeming with extras. Every penny of what must have been a substantial budget is evident in shots where hundreds of people and multiple helicopters are on-screen for just a few seconds.

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Will viewers come away with a nuanced view of the moral compromises inherent in policing the opiate industry? Absolutely not. But for thrill-seekers who want to zip between opulent nightclubs and elaborate shootouts in stunning mountaintop forests, “Operation Mekong” has a strong kick, with minimal side effects.

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‘Operation Mekong’

In Cantonese, Mandarin, and Thai with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes.

Playing: AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC 30, Orange; AMC Tustin 14 at the District

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