“PTU: Police Tactical Unit” – A.J. Hakari

Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity here in the West. With his crime dramas, particularly the Election movies, To hasn’t so much overhauled the genre as has spruced it up a bit, changing little things here and there so as to lend the film even the slightest aura of freshness. PTU: Police Tactical Unit, a To picture that comes to us courtesy of the folks at Dragon Dynasty, follows right around these lines, familiar enough to be accessible to viewers on this side of the pond while maintaining a certain flavor that’s all its own.

A minor crisis is looming on the streets of Hong Kong. After a run-in with a few young punks, the slovenly Inspector Lo Sa (Lam Suet) has lost his gun. But rather than report him to his superiors, the stoic Sergeant Ho (Simon Yam) has decided to lead his men on a search to find it by morning, taking full responsibility if they come up empty-handed. Their hunt leads them deep into the Triad underworld, eventually stumbling upon a plot that involves the recent assassination of a brash gang boss. But with a tough-as-nails female inspector (Ruby Wong) breathing down their necks, Ho and company find themselves having to bend the rules even more delicately in order to have the gun in hand by sunrise.

On the surface, PTU appears to be a pretty thin beef. Plotwise, it has as simple of a premise as can be, with the vast majority of the running time dedicated trying to find out where that blasted gun went to. But don’t take this to mean that PTU is merely a mindless action flick with no other agenda in mind but to blow stuff up. Firstly, there’s a distinct lack of action, the constant gunfights and explosions that plague all too many crime stories taking a backseat to a more patient approach to dealing with action sequences. To institutes a slow-burn atmosphere, enabling the film’s events to slowly grow more intense alongside the aura, until everything spills out in the go-for-broke gun battle that caps off the climax. Other than that, however, PTU does a very slick job of glossing the story over with tried-and-true themes involving honor, duty, and all the stuff that comes as second nature to a cop flick. But instead of coming across as stale and obligatory, To turns these ideas into something somewhat fresh and interesting.

Though you’re never exactly sure why Ho decides to put his career and possibly his life on the line in order to find some slobby cop’s pistol in the first place, To certainly makes the hunt seem intriguing, thanks to the level of dedication Ho sets himself at in order to uncover the gun. In one of the flick’s most tense scenes, Ho repeatedly slaps a gangster and forces him to rub off his tattoo until he can give up the location of another mobster — unaware that the guy he’s looking for is dead. To sets up the pieces of the story magnificently, filling the plot with characters who have secret agendas that intersect with one another on a pretty consistent basis. Though it sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen, To makes sure that the plot’s machinations all run smoothly. Throw in some solid performances from To favorites Yam and Suet, who finally gets a more prominent here and does wonders with it, and you’ve got yourself the work of a director who knows how to play a genre’s most hackneyed elements to his advantage.

PTU: Police Tactical Unit doesn’t completely escape the long arm of conventionality, thanks mostly to its incredibly bad score and a couple of half-developed characters left floating around the plot. But while it doesn’t quite achieve The Departed levels of greatness, PTU still manages to come across as a pretty entertaining way to kill 88 minutes.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

One Response to ““PTU: Police Tactical Unit” – A.J. Hakari”

  1. 1minutefilmreview Says:

    We thought PTU should be Johnnie’s best to date.

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