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Original Title:
Kei tung bou deui: Juet lou

Hong Kong 2009

Crime, Drama

Lawrence Lau

Simon Yam
Maggie Siu
Derek Tsang
Lam Suet
Wong Man Shing
Osman Hung
Samuel Pang
Otto Wong

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Tactical Unit - No Way Out

Story: Fai (Derek Tsang) is a simpleminded cigarette dealer in Hong Kong's Temple Street and member of the local Wo Hap Hing gang. One day he gets into a serious argument with the rivalling Wo Luen Shing gang, which means some trouble for him, even the more as a police unit, lead by Sam (Simon Yam), uses him to raid one of the drug storehouses of the Wo Luen Shing gang. Fai is seen as a traitor as of this moment and there are some pretty serious quarrels between the two gangs, eventually leading to a dead body. The police believes the balance in the Temple Street to be disturbed and shuts down all illegal and legal activities until they find the murderer. However, Fai is right in the cross-fire, and there is no one in his life who is good to him except of a prostitute who lonvingly cares for him. But it's just this prostitute the Wo Hap Hing gang takes revenge on, because they hold Fai responsible for not being able to pursue their business anymore. The prostitute gets sick and can't go to the police as she is an illegal immigrant from the mainland. Fai and his friend end up on the street. He can't think of anything else than to take revenge on the man he thinks is responsible for this whole situation: Sam.

Review: "Tactical Unit - No Way Out" is the second installment in the "Tactical Unit" series, a spin-off of the Johnnie To movie "PTU". Sadly, the film has a big problem and that is its subject. Director Lawrence Lau, who could already prove his skills behind the camera in "My Name is Fame", turns the crime-series into a socio-drama, which may win over those who find a milieu study fascinating, but not the Hong Kong crime fans originally intrigued by the series. What you think of the movie in the end strongly depends on what expectations or wants you have when watching it. Well, these "word of wisdom" may seem a bit superfluous - isn't this the case with any movie? - but "Tactical Unit - No Way Out" suffers particularly from this fact. The movie takes its time to portray the life of the small-time gangster Fai who is definitely at the very end of the food chain, yet at the same time it tries to elaborate the balance between police and gangsters that is apparent in such a difficult territory as the Temple Street. But is it legitimate to put Fai along with the drama that is his life into the center of the movie?

That question is not easy to answer, because there may be in fact some people who are happy to get not just simply another crime case solved by our PTU heroes, but instead are presented with a story which focus is shifted somewhere else. However, I belong to that group of viewers who feel deceived by a TV series and actually get upset when the main characters take a step back or aren't featured at all anymore, because the actors wanted to have some more time off or whatever reasons there might be. "Tactical Unit" may be a MOVIE series, but for me that doesn't change anything, so my opinion remains the same. Simon Yam and Maggie Siu take a back seat, they don't have much to do, and that's bad. Only towards the end you get the feeling that they may be an important component of the movie. This leads me to the first major point of criticism, namely that the movie lacks any characters to root for. Being the morally ambivalent individuals as they were introduced to us in the previous installment of the series, which knowledge isn't necessary in order to understand the events depicted in "Tactical Unit - No Way Out", there was enough character elaboration for a sequel to pick up where it left off and use the police unit members as old acquaintances of us so that we easily could have woven a bond to them. Yet, the scriptwriters abstained from that idea...

That makes it hard to get into the movie. We are introduced to Fai's life, a man whom life didn't deal any good cards to begin with and who even has to struggle with getting worse cards during the course of the film. He gets caught in the crossfire of two rivalling gangs and what scriptwriters Tang Lik-Kei and Szeto Kam-Yuen, latter also being responsible for the stories of "Exiled", "Dog Bite Dog" and "Love Battlefield", have in store for poor Fai after that is almost too much. Because even though the movie might not be truely nihilistic in tone, there are over and over again scenes that are so depressing and dramatic in tone that it becomes difficult to get along with them. For example, the only woman that means a lot to Fai is put on fire and raped by a group of gangsters in one lengthy scene, while Fai is beaten up over and over again. The policemen are no different and rough him up on several occasions, too. The exhaustiveness this is presented with seems somewhat inappropriate, though. "Tactical Unit - No Way Out" seems to have its focus where it shouldn't be.

It would have been more desirable to see the struggle of balance between police and gangsters in Temple Street district illuminated a bit more. The mutual respect and the agreements made in secret should have depicted the actual motive of the movie. Policemen who want to make the world a better place, but who also realized that in order to do so they have to compromise and make sacrifices, policemen, who oftentimes aren't that different from the gangsters they hunt, because they want to achieve their goals, but in return are plagued by a guilty conscience, these people are only unexplicitly in the movie's focus and at the end in a conversation between the policemen the true "message" of the film is artificially refined again and it gets legitimated why one had to focus on Fai's life. It's as if the message is downright imposed on the viewer and that's not something that works out in the movie's favor.

The connections between Fai and the policemen are merely determined by shared fate or karma, which means that Fai by chance runs into the police on several occasions, so that we get the impression that the district Sam's unit is on the beat in is merely a few square metres in size.
Moreover, the film simply lacks any tension and the characters all remain shallow, sadly this also includes Fai, even though the director takes a lot of time centering around him. Still, we can't sympathize with him, even if we start to pity him for the bad fate he has to endure. But it's just these feelings the director uses too manipulatively, leading the viewer to instinctively fight against emotional involvement.
At least the pictures are sometimes pretty gloomy, there are more night shots than in the preceding film and towards the end we get an almost typical HK-movie ending with a strong socio-drama tone, which just didn't work out for me. Let's hope that the next installment returns to its roots and works more effectively with its characters.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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