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Original Title:
Kei tung bou deui: Ging lai

Hong Kong 2008

Crime, Action, Drama

Law Wing-Cheong

Simon Yam
Maggie Siu
Lee Kwok Lun
Lam Suet
Chang Yung-cheng
Lam King-Kong
Roderick Lam
Lau Kwok Shing

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Tactical Unit - The Code

Story: Three policemen of a PTU-unit beat up an unknown man in an alley very badly. The whole scene is filmed by a security camera and eventually gets into the hands of the police headman. In a meeting it is decided to let the Complaints Against Police Office - short CAPO - deal with the case and find the responsible men. All units are under suspicion and therefore the pressure on them is enormous, however, this is especially the case with Sam (Simon Yam) and his men, who are the actual culprits, as they are trying to find the victim of the punch-up before the CAPO does, which becomes even the more difficult as this person is also the suspect in another case.
A race against time commences, but luckily Sam has the support of his female colleague May (Maggie Siu). Sam is also in strong need of her help, as another colleague of his, Eight (Lee Kwok Lun), is on the verge of losing his head, after he confessed to the police bureau that he is up to his ears in debt, which is why he has been removed of his post and is in danger of going ballistic...

Review: "Tactical Unit - The Code" is the first installment in a 5-part series of movies that stand as sequels to Johnnie To's "PTU". However, it has to be added that this film has been produced for television. Even if To himself has been onboard as a producer and this is surely not a cheap commercialization or misuse of the name "PTU", which is supported by the fact that Simon Yam, Maggie Siu and Lam Suet take on their respective roles again (even though strangely the names of their characters have changed), expectations for such a production have to be a little bit lower, naturally. The budget of a TV-production can never compare to that of a movie for the big screen, and tightly bound to that is the quality of a production. If you keep that in mind, you will be surprised how compelling and atmospheric "Tactical Unit - The Code" actually is. Albeit the story might not sound that thrilling, it is very authentic and feels especially credible because of the fact that the movie works mostly on a drama level.

"PTU", too, just revolves around a police officer, whose service revolver has been stolen, and who then tries to get it back. Storywise the sequel also works within a small frame, most of the time it centers around the characters, which really plays in the movie's favor and improves the story by some degree. Especially the story thread of Eight, who had hoped to get support from the police by telling them that he has serious debt problems, is enthralling. Instead Eight is reprimanded and removed from his post, which is the same as taking his life from him. Apparently sincerity doesn't pay off. We get to understand that a lot of policemen are in debt, it's just better not to talk about it and keep it to oneself. Eight is one of the good guys, which is also why he has some problems with Sam's excessive use of force, but after this matter he seems to go astray.

More or less in the movie's focus is Sam and his unit, even though it's not that easy pinpoint it that way. That is because Sam actually only somewhat serves as a sympathetic figure and at some times this doesn't work out at all as his brutal style is too repelling for us to be able to weave an emotional bond to him. However, this way there is a credible picture crafted of the policemen actually being human beings. Sam on certain occasions is in fact worried about other people. When it comes to helping his colleague Eight he even lets a suspect escape, even when this might have some serious consequences for him. Therefore our initial antipathy towards Sam is revised, yet you can't just say that at the end he simply has won over our sympathy, because for this to happen the film treats its audience too honest. Furthermore, Simon Yam manages to bring some character traits on screen with his charisma, which might have remained hidden from us if it weren't for him, as the script definitely is in demand of some more elaboration on this level.

So, "Tactical Unit - The Code" works within a small frame, and even if it would be exaggerated to attribute a documentary style to the film, we nonetheless get some nice insight into the work of the PTU (Police Tactical Unit), even if this work might sometimes merely consist of waiting for a suspect to show up or to engage into struggles with superiors and colleagues. The problems depicted aren't that imposing as those of many blockbuster flicks, but instead have a more realistic tone to it, for example problems like the fact that you have to return your weapon until a certain point of time, and if you don't you would have to face serious consequences. There are also some other small things like the policemen having to take a cab in order to get back to headquarters, that can make you smile, yet at the same time create a certain kind of authenticity. Nevertheless, there is a certain tension the movie is filled with, which is also underlined by a fitting soundtrack. It's easy to make out that director Law Wing-Cheong ("Hooked on You") is a protege of Johnnie To, because in respect to creating a tense atmosphere he surely learnt a thing or two from his master.

Director Law also manages to capture some nice and appealing images, despite the low budget, which are responsible that you actually forget that you are watching just a TV movie most of the time. Still, it remains without doubt, that the film isn't nearly as stylish as "PTU", because the director refrains completely from using unnecessary light and shadow effects, instead the look is more down-to-earth, even the more as most of the scenes have been filmed during daytime. Nonetheless, this stands as a welcome change.
At the end the different story threads are woven into a well done whole which leads to a nice little showdown at the police headquarter. Here, the policemen also can show that they aren't merely woodenly patrolling policeman on the beat, but in fact have undergone a tactical training.
"Tactical Unit - The Code" has some weaknesses, the characters at some points could have been elaborated more, at times there is too little happening on screen and the low budget shows on some occasions, but apart from that the movie was a positive surprise for me. It remains to be seen what the future sequels hold in store for us, but there is undoubtedly potential in this series.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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