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Original Title:

Hong Kong 2003

Crime, Drama

Johnnie To

Lam Suet
Simon Yam
Ruby Wong
Maggie Siu

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Story: Officer Lo (Lam Suet) is robbed of his gun by a bunch of thugs he is chasing after. If he doesn't get it back before the next morning it would mean that he will get suspended. With the help of his colleague Mike Ho (Simon Yam), leader of a special unit that patrols the streets of Hong Kong at night, he keeps his loss a secret for now. While Lo tries to get his weapon back his own way, Ho and his special unit investigate some other hints. His methods are questionable, though, and so female colleague Kat (Maggie Siu) oftentimes has an eye on him.
The whole affair gets even more tense when Ponytail, son of triad boss Bald Head is found dead in his car. Bald Head believes that his rival Eye Ball is the murderer, but after all Eye Ball denys to have been involved in the killing. Bald Head makes a deal with Lo and wants his help to take vengeance on Eye Ball in return for his missing gun. However, Lo has to be extra careful, because CID Officer Leigh Cheng (Ruby Wong), who is looking into the murder case of Ponytail already suspects Lo to hide something...

Review: Aside from his more commercial ones Johnnie To every now and then makes a movie for himself, meaning a more personal work. "PTU" is one of those rare pieces and To once again shows, that he is an excellent director. He knows how to pamper the eye of the viewer with impressive pictures and a great lighting of the scenes. Yet, the movie just lacks... essence. Even though the script isn't that bad at all. There are too much questions that are left unanswered and most of the characters are just too shallow. To's movie about comradeship and the definition of what's right and what's wrong, has clearly too many lengths. These flaws weigh just too much for the style of the film to outbalance them again.

The beginning drags you right into the events. Officer Lo enters a noodle shop and runs across four thugs. He makes clear to them how the hierarchy system works and drives them away from their place. The subtle tension, that lies in the air between the two different partys is almost physically graspable. It's here were the premise starts. Lo chases after some of the thugs after they have demolished his car and doing so he somehow loses his gun. In some of the next scenes, the leader of the gangsters, Ponytail, gets killed by an unknown gangster.
Up until now the story is relatively easy to follow, but we are already right into the movie. So the question is why the events start to get more and more uninteresting until the second third of the film. We find out that not everything is as easy as it might seem at first glance, and that there are a lot of other partys that are involved in certain doings. However, there are quite some lengths that appear more frequently with time and the characters are not interesting enough to make watching really a worthwhile experience.

Nonetheless, the performance of Lam Suet, who shines here in one of his very few leading roles, along with Simon Yam's efforts are pretty good. Officer Lo's character is the best elaborated of them all and Lam Suet convinces in his role as a police officer who likes to make use of his authority. Simon Yam gives uncompromising Mike Ho a face, who has no qualms on the way he prefers to get certain informations. We never can really sympathize with him, because his harsh way of doing things just doesn't seem right. Yet, his character can arouse the viewer's curiosity, even if his motives always stay in the dark.
The rest of the cast can't show much. Ruby Wong and Maggie Siu give us a minimalistic performance of their characters and the rest of the crew are drawn so thin that you can nearly look right through them.
Why Johnnie To didn't pay heed to making his protagonists more three-dimensional is the more strange as To normally places value on letting his storys take place between the characters. He likes to blur the line of good and evil, and even if he might have succeded here again by implementing Officer Lo and Ho, the potential of the other characters is simply given away.

Another sore point are the unnecessary lengths. Oftentimes there is nothing happening at all and even the dialogues are somewhat rare. If something would happen or been said between the lines, then the movie's muteness would have been a nice stylistic touch, but none of that is the case. For this to be possible in the first place, the protagonists would have had to be elaborated in a more convincing way, of course.

However, "PTU" is an extremely stylish movie. Since the events all take place in one single night, we are drawn into another world, in which the streets of Hong Kong at night are completely lifeless, empty and only illuminated by artificial light. In its perfection the different camera shots and especially the lighting of the scenes have no equal. Additionally, the well done, even if sometimes strange soundtrack, can intensify the atmosphere.
Towards the end we also get to see a nice action highlight. All story threads suddenly intersect at one point, like all being part of a happy coincidence, which leads to a very nicely done shootout sequence. Yet, sometimes one just gets the feeling that To crosses the line and the pictures become overly stylish. Nevertheless, quite impressive.
Concerning the whereabouts of Lo's gun there is a nice twist at the end. Quite frankly, the coincidences that work towards this finale and which concentrate all plot threads on one point in order to resolve everything in an unforeseeable way, eventually, are just too unbelievable. But that's exactly what "PTU" is about: Luck, heroism, and brotherhood.

Sadly, the content can't live up to the external wrapping. "PTU" is a movie told in impressive pictures, that just has too many lengths and which lacks any nicely drawn characters. Johnnie To proves once again, that he is an excellent director, a master of style and that Hong Kong cinema still has a future. Anyway, the next time please a little bit more reality than illusion, Mr. To.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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