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PTU (HK 2003)

Director : Johnny To
Cast :  Simon Yam, Suet Lam, Ruby Wong, Maggie Siu, Eddy Ko, Hoi-Pang Lo, Ho-Yin Wong, Jerome Fung and Frank Michael Liu.

Over the course of one night, a team of cops frantically search for their colleague’s missing gun.

by Edward Tang

The first time I saw PTU was in a room full of 35 people, a small screening of some type. I don’t really remember. Anyways, I remember walking out and feeling that the film was basically 90 minutes of nothing, just a bunch of standing around and nothing to show for it. For sure I wasn’t going to give it a second glance, why should I? But of course, I got a Christmas gift from some relative, he heard that I liked Asian flicks. He bought me about 20. Included in such was PTU, and I thought I’d never watch it again. But hell, why not? Surely the film could have some redeeming qualities in it, and I was glad that I did give it a second chance. Johnnie To is a master at his craft, showing the seedy underbelly of the night, and being able to actually see the characters for once. (rather than in some flicks that have night scenes and you see a bunch of rumbling and tumbling). Simom Yam leads the cast of PTU as they search as it seems, endlessly into the night for Lo’s gun. I must admit that I was expecting a bunch of action and shootouts after watching To’s other vehicle “The Mission”. The story is simple in structure and the acting follows that suit, but something about the direction and how the story moves along, gives us a hope that something might just occur that we don’t expect.

The story is simple, but has a quality that most films of this quality tend to forget. We get a story that actually leads somewhere, rather than just falling into the basics of telling (such as To’s Throw Down). There are a few scenes in general that show why To is the master. For starters, you’ve got the video game hall in which presents Simon Yam’s character into a bind, searching for Ponytail. So what does Yam do in this situation? He bitch slaps the asshole and makes him rub off his tattoo, which in turn gets his boss to call up for his cousin. The scene isn’t only powerful, it hurts, and involves us into the situation. Then you see the conclusion, he rubs his tattoo until it bleeds. Ouchies! But the one scene that truly sold the flick to me was the scene in the diner. Ponytail and his boys are sitting down to a nice meal, and in strolls Lo. Then begins a table switch, each character also answering his cell phone as the others pick up theirs and put it away. Then out of the blue, a character who looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, stabs Ponytail in the chest. That scene alone showed me that To is one hell of a director.

The film has a quality that shows more of a realistic side to the characters, making everyone actually seem human. Simon Yam has great screen presence, and in this film, doesn’t even have to say many lines to demand the attention of such. I mean frankly, this guy rules and whether its throwing cigar bombs in Bullet in the Head or doing a favor for psychotic homosexuals in Full Contact, Yam is the man. Suet Lam plays probably the other major role in this film, a guy who I haven’t seen much of. His presence in the film is good, actually he easily pulled off a character that was necessary to hit with. The rest of the cast isn’t full of any standouts that are worth a mention, other than those I have said. I did enjoy the asthma guy who got the shit kicked out of him and was basically like “Bleeding internally? Fuck it!” There’s an easy suitable comedic tone to this film and makes it even more enjoyable then it should be.

Everything moves along well, from the confrontations to the all around moving story shot beautifully in the dead of night. The ending is something I actually liked, the little surprise given to you at the end of the film. I’ve heard from others that it wasn’t that effective, hell I enjoyed it. The ending is simple and proves that Johnnie To always has something for us after enjoying the sights and sounds of his excellent and thirst-quenching direction style. The final shootout isn’t no John Woo style or anything of a sort, it’s almost like a desperation act. These men aren’t jumping around and diving out of the way and shit. They are taking every single bullet in the chamber, and firing off into a slow motion fantasy, of quirky delight. Saying one thing about PTU to those out there who want some action for the night, this film isn’t for you. PTU mainly focuses on a familiar To element of the police versus some sort of scum. In this case it’s guys named Eye Ball and Bald Head.

I’m sure that’s why I didn’t like it the first time. Edward Tang is the type of guy who speaks of himself in the third person and likes action to go along with his day. But he can always appreciate when a director shows his craft in the best way possible, a small but moving story that makes you keep along with it. Granted, with today’s garbage pouring out of Hong Kong (Initial D? Bah), films like this remind me why cinema was invented, not just for profit, but for something else that can portray humans, like guess what? Humans. I wouldn’t call this Johnnie’s masterpiece, but it comes close.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 3/5
Overall : 3/5

Notable Scenes
- the final shootout between the PTU and the thugs.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – PTU

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