3 ½ stars: A Clever, Gritty Crime drama with the Johnnie To
Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 02/07/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"PTU (Police Tactical Unit) is the handiwork of award-winning Hong Kong director; Johnnie To(Full-time Killer, Exiled, Breaking News). I've always read that Johnnie To is the epitome of hard-boiled cool, his films usually have that dark, gritty style with sly humor and stylized, intense gunfights. PTU's screenplay all happens in one evening, and while its premise is quite simple, with a script not as polished as "Infernal Affairs", To's signature style is still represented quite proudly.
Synopsis derived from the dvd back cover:
Set against a TsimSha Tsui that never sleeps, a stolen police sidearm triggers a suspenseful chain of events. Tracking down the missing gun before dawn, police inspector Lo (Lam Suet, Dog Bite Dog) gets his car vandalized, then he gets beaten up by street thugs. Suddenly, he is wedged between two gangs on a brink of a bloodbath. While staving off investigations by both the anti-vice squad and homicidal unit embroiled in a turf war. His only lifeline is a maverick team of Police Tactical Unit headed by a cop named Mike Ho (Simon Yam, Exiled) who helps him search for his missing gun.
PTU stands for Police Tactical Unit, the film itself uses a very simple premise. But the film is full of the usual Johnnie To signature. Characters, all threads collide in one night, high contrasting light versus dark. A natural minimalization versus a deep sense of dark humor. The film has a very cool and precise timing in its proceedings that the film is a gritty visual ballet.
The delight of watching To's films is the way the scenes unfold; questions are answered and more questions arise. Although the film does leave some questions unanswered, a clever script, great acting, humor smartly dispersed in its proceedings and the film does have a few surprises in store for the viewer; makes for very powerful cinema. There's really a very slim chance that the viewer will figure out the climax that is the beauty of Johnnie's films. Also, the magic of his film-making is that the director always finds the right actors for the role. Lam Suet hardly plays a lead role and that adds to the feeling of unknown and the viewer will have no difficulty connecting with his eccentric character. Simon Yam fits the role of over-the-top policeman Mike Ho, his methods are a bit extreme and unorthodox at times, but he does have his own sense of loyalty and camaraderie that is very effective.
PTU, truth be told, is another "buddy flick" because Johnnie likes to emphasize friendship in his films, but he adds nasty and dark characters to balance the shades of gray, black and white, good and evil. The supporting characters are given a purpose in the film's direction. No wasted opportunity, as Johnnie To maneuvers the proceedings to ultimate irony. There is a lot of dialogue and the film balances out with its excellent cinematography, which brings us to its strongest point. The film is mostly shot at night, and the awesome use of lighting gives the film a dark, atmospheric feel. In a way, the film is presented almost like a stage play, the members of PTU move around in the rain and uses simple street lamps to emphasize attention to what is happening, that under the spotlight; something relevant that may affect the lives of others is going on. I rather thought that the spotlights were meant to represent the underworld, its dealings and the rules that apply.
However, on the minus side, the film's pacing suffer a bit because there are quite a few "slow" moments and the action is almost non-existent until the climax. Now, don't take this as negative comments, the film is great the way it is; a police drama that makes a really good effort in engaging its audience that even though the film is slower paced than most of To's films, the style is immersive as the story unfolds. That is one of Johnnie To's strengths; he has a great feel for storytelling.
PTU may not be as explosive as his other films such as EXILED, The Mission and Full time Killer, but the film is definitely worth a watch. PTU is a clever return to Hong Kong crime drama, that even with its rather slower pace, the film can stand on its own as one of Johnnie To's greats.
RECOMMENDED! For fans of cop/triad films [3 ½ stars+]
Note: I own the Hong Kong release by Mei-Ah entertainment, the Dragon Dynasty release should carry an English dubbed track.
Very enjoyable-but only for a certain type of viewer. . .
Garvinstomp | Chicago or LA | 09/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"PTU is, unmistakably, a Johnnie To film. That being said, it is not one of his most accessible films. The first time I watched it I felt a bit underwhelmed when it was over. But, being that it was a JT film, I decided to watch all the extras and give it another look. JT is one of those rare filmmakers that if I don't have a strongly positive reaction the first time I see his film I'll give it additional looks because I may be missing something. There aren't many directors about which such a statement can be said. But To works on so many levels you're almost always likely to pick up important subtleties through extra viewings.
PTU is basically a story that follows a series of characters whose storylines are constantly intertwining. The whole movie takes place in the course of one evening. So while it's not a 'real-time' flick, it is fairly compact. I think part of what makes the film hard to grab onto at first is that there is no true main character. This means that it can be tough trying to latch on to a favorite or settle in.
Also, much of what the characters are planning seem to be kept to themselves. Rarely do we get any foresight as to what's going to happen. This is not a movie where you'll be able to see the end from the beginning. You'll likely not be able to anticipate even what the next scene will be. And that can be disconcerting wherein most films there's a certain amount of predictability. Here, To crafts a story that leaves much in the dark, throughout (often quite literally because it takes place during one night).
That being said, this is a fantastic film. I wouldn't argue that it's amongst his best. But even on his worst day he makes most others look like amateurs. As usual, he gets nothing but first rate performances out of his stoic cast. He keeps dialogue to a minimum, doing what he does best and letting actions and mannerisms do much of the storytelling.
PTU is best described as a crime drama. It is very deliberately paced. There are no major set-pieces like in 'The MIssion' or 'Exiled'. It is more a series of smaller events that grow in consequence as we move forward. To fans and those who are intrigued by crime and cop dramas would most likely enjoy this. Some will find it slow or inconsequential. Some will find it altogether boring. But it really is the kind of movie that will grow on you. I doubt it will be anyone's favorite. But it is another solid entry into the Johnnie To library that I'm sure to revisit."
WAKE ME UP WHEN IT'S OVER
W. Sandefur | 04/07/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"When I say that PTU: Police Tactical Unit is a "sleeper", I don't mean it's an underrated hit. I mean it will literally put you to sleep. I watched this movie during the day and I had to force myself to stay awake. Dragon Dynasty has been really letting me down lately with flicks like this and Dog Bite Dog and Dragon Heat and Fatal Contact and... well you get the picture. Movies with a lot of dark and moody style and very little substance or even any good action. On the action front, PTU is definitely the worst. The whole plot is as follows: A fat, stupid cop loses his gun, which apparently is a hanging offense by the way everyone reacts. Then a bunch of other cops, who don't even like the fat, stupid cop, spend the whole night going around the city (on foot mind you) trying to track down the missing gun by talking to a bunch of people. Did I mention that this was supposed to be an "action" movie? Well here it is... after 90 minutes of intense talking there is suddenly a gun fight that lasts about 2 minutes... THE END. Wow! This flick should have just been called P.U., because it stunk! Do not make the same mistake I did. Save 90+ minutes of your life and skip this one. Trust me."
Actually, a pretty good flick...
Spacejockey | Central Coast | 07/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First off, I got this DVD from the bargain bin of the local mega store and didn't place much high expectation on it.
I do have to agree that the title PTU (Police Tactical Unit) was misleading, since the majority of the police portrayed were what we termed `street' cops, walking their beats, not some special tactical units; throughout the movie, all the uniformed and plain-cloth polices were equipped with revolvers instead of the higher capacity automatics, thus no black-clad, helmeted SWAT members armed with submachine guns or assault rifles with limitless ammunition. Sorry to disappointed on that count.
If viewers were expecting some fast action, butt-kicking, Jet Li or Jackie Chan type action flicks, they would be highly disappointed. Though it could not be categorized as a thinking men's crime movie, it is nonetheless, a thought-provoking one, complete with anticipations of every next encounters... literally, around every corners. The whole movie revolved around events all happened within one fateful evening.
What makes this movie very different than others is the very `novel' and yet unique way that just about every character that came onto the screen had something, some part in the overall scheme of the plot! At the same time, there were a couple of red herrings threw in just to make it more interesting, making the viewers wondered just what parts these characters played only to find out they offered false leads.
This movie does raise the question of what makes a good cop, a by-the-book character or someone who is willing to bend some rules and rough up some baddies to get the job done. The `good guys' have been divided into four separate groups, the one plain-cloth detective who lost his service revolver, the two separate squads of uniformed police lead by two sergeants and the plain-cloth CID unit investigating possible wrong-doings by the others.
The final scene where everyone came together played out like so much fated happenstance, with the final showdown when everyone was in place.
I do recommend PTU to anyone who wanted a change of pace from all rest of the slapstick comedic or ultra-violent HK action flicks.