Johnnie To, Wallace Chung and Gao Yun Xiang present 'Drug War' at Rome Film Festival 2012

Wallace Chung signing autographs at Rome Film Festival
Background (L-R): Liu Yanming, Johnnie To, Yau Nai-hoi and Gao Yun Xiang
The presence of legendary Hong Kong film director Johnnie To at this year's Rome Film Festival was announced late in the day, but once the news broke that the second of two “surprise” In Competition films from Asia would be To's latest thriller Du Zhan (Drug War), I was absolutely thrilled! I'm a huge Hong Kong cinema fan and have been a fan of Johnnie To since the early days of his long career and I'm delighted to report that I now own an autographed DVD of To's cult classic The Heroic Trio, which the director kindly signed for me on Thursday evening in Rome!

Johnnie To was joined on the red carpet by the impeccably dressed and incredibly handsome actors Gao Yun Xiang and Wallace Chung, as well as To's longtime collaborators screenwriters Wai Ka-fai and Yau Nai-hoi, and producer Liu Yanming, with their arrival heralded by the strains of a traditional Chinese erhu and pipa played by two glamorous musicians. The red carpet for this year's festival is decorated with props from film sets taken from movies filmed at Rome's Cinecittà studios such as The Gladiator and Gangs of New York - the Chinese delegation politely obliged when they were inevitably invited to pose for photographs in front of the Chinese Dragons set from the Italian movie Delitto al ristorante cinese (Crime at the Chinese Restaurant).

Inside Sala Sinopoli the atmosphere was charged with anticipation Рclearly, the audience at this Gala World Premi̬re included many Johnnie To fans from the general public Рand the arrival of the director elicited huge applause.

The very first of To's many films to be shot and set in mainland China rather than Hong Kong, Drug War tells the story of a complex police operation to trap a cadre of drug barons. It is chock full of the staples of the cop thriller genre - double identities, double-crossings and explosive action sequences – but it is the gritty realism, slow building tension, and the stand-out performances by lead actors Louis Koo as the drug boss Timmy Choi and Sun Honglei as the police captain Zhang that make this movie particularly effective and stay with the viewer long after the credits roll. I loved it!

To get a taste of the atmosphere at the Drug War premiere watch the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).