TripAdvisor - Hong Kong
home | art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
Veteran Hong Kong action director Johnnie To sets
the stage right from the start of PTU when the head of the Police Tactical Unit,
Sgt. Mike Ho (Simon Yam), chastises his colleagues for taking the death of an officer
lightly. His loyalty to other officers is put
to the test when Sgt. Lo (Johnnie To regular Suet Lam) loses his gun. Lo will lose his promotion next month if his
superiors find out, especially if hes lost the gun to some young triad members as he
believes he has. To make matters worse, their
leader, Ponytail, has just been murdered and they may likely use the gun to get back at a
rival gang. When Ho finds out, he refuses to
report the missing gun, but Criminal Investigation Department stickler Leigh Chen (Ruby
Wong) whos looking into the Ponytail homicide, is much less sympathetic. She quickly intuits a connection between Ponytail and Lo
and presents a danger to the careers of both Lo and Ho.
To has a few terrific films under his belt The Heroic Trio, A Hero Never Dies and while PTU as a whole doesnt reach those heights, its virtuoso opening sequence might be the best segment To has ever assembled. To initially presents Ho as one tough, mean cop who scares one gangster to do pushups while intimidating another to move from his restaurant table. Then step by step, To undermines this initial impression. The sequence is a frenzy of activity with a leaky air-conditioner, yellow paint, and ringing cell phones escalating the small confrontations, deadpan humor, petty vengeances, and absurdist violence. The only flaw here is To using a cheesy riff of the Eagles Hotel California on the soundtrack. The rest of the movie never matches this peak opening.
PTU is certainly Tos most self-consciously arty film, which probably helped to get it into the New York Film Festival. The style is epitomized by extended stretches of silence and carefully composed master shots. One scene of rain descending on all the various characters in a misty drizzle is especially beautiful. To shoots Hong Kong like a cavernous labyrinth illuminated by harsh spot lights. The formal style combines well with the grittiness of Tos past films, but unlike those movies, PTU lacks real characters to care about.
In PTU, the characters are all defined by their place in the plot. They dont come alive organically, but seem distant and abstract. Simon Yam as Mike Ho comes closest to being the exception. Yam has been an icon of Hong Kong grindhouse cinema for a decade now, averaging a prolific six films a year in that period. While hes wallowed in a lot of grade-Z movies, hes probably most famous for John Woos Bullet in the Head and the more recent Fulltime Killer (another Johnnie To film). The character's casual brutality to street lowlifes and his devotion to Lo bespeak a willed ignorance to broader moral concerns. To doesnt do enough with this fascistic impulse except to create some empathy with one of the gangsters who Ho nearly slaps into the next life. Because of the lack of character development, when the blazing shootout ending comes along, it looks dazzling, but feels strangely empty and slight.
- George Wu