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PTU (2003)

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Beat TG
Date: 09/07/2008
Summary: New phase in Johnnie To's career

This is excellent stuff from start to end in terms of storytelling/film-making by Johnnie To, who already made some classics of this caliber years earlier, but by this time PTU marked a turning point for him and his company in terms of production, budget, creativity and so on which has led to further great accomplishments as a result (THROW DOWN, ELECTION, EXILED and the recent MAD DETECTIVE). Everything is spot on and used really well to enhance the events to greatest effect: cinematography, lighting, direction, music (To is master when it comes to music and knows how to perfect the balance between certain scenes and executing music scores), acting/actors (To's casting is nothing short of brilliant despite the fact that he uses few actors too much in movies, and that's just fine), slow-motion; everything. This is perfect film-making in my books... Fantastic, artistic, fascinating and, above all, creative film-making.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 05/20/2008
Summary: Not a film to dip into

When Sergeant Lo (Lam Suet) loses his police pistol after a scuffle with a bunch of TsimShaTsui hoodlums one night, Sergeant Ho (Simon Yam) puts a self-imposed deadline on finding the weapon. Fearing its use in gang warfare, Ho’s team scramble to recover the weapon before dawn, or they will be forced to report the loss to their superiors. When the main suspect turns up murdered, escalating violence between rival gangs becomes inevitable.

Set over one night in TsimShaTsui, PTU (it stands for Police Tactical Unit, by the way) is one of those films that is irresistible to fans of ticking-clock thrillers that feel they’re moving in real time (even though they’re not).

The film is imbued with some very black comedy, sometimes making it feel like a Hong Kong version of AFTER HOURS, what with the urban night-time setting, bizarre events and all. One scene at the start perfectly sets up the tone and establishes the pecking order in the film’s society: lead thug Ponytail (Frank Liu) and his gang enter a cafe and sit at their preferred table, displacing a lone eater who was already there. In comes the hated sergeant Lo and chooses the same table, displacing Ponytail and his gang and making them sit elsewhere.

However, at heart PTU is a cop procedure thriller more in line with other Milky Way films such as EYE IN THE SKY and To’s own BREAKING NEWS. Where this film differs, though, is in the intricate plotting – sometimes making the film extremely hard to follow. There are several threads to the story, and if you’re not paying attention, you’re going to get lost – and that’s guaranteed. Several times, something happens or is discussed and seems inconsequential – only to end up being crucial to the film’s outcome.

Even though this film runs below 90 minutes, there does seem some flabbiness in the middle section, and one scene, where Ho’s unit progress stealthily up a staircase, is excruciatingly slow. PTU’s film score consists entirely of what sounds like 80’s guitar power-rock solos – and not very good ones at that. Given To’s previous works, where the music is entirely fitting and tasteful, this seems an entirely bizarre choice. Nevertheless, the urban locations are atmospheric and TsimShaTsui becomes a character in itself, with its strangely deserted streets and shuttered businesses. I’ve no idea what the district is like these days, but it was always said that it was not the kind of area tourists were recommended to be in after darkness, and this comes across very well in the film, and looks akin to the seedier, grittier areas of New York as shown in US productions.

PTU is clever, but I feel it’s perhaps too clever for its own good. There are some characters that seem superfluous, such as Maggie Shaw’s Sergeant Kat, and the pace is at times too slow. But if you’re prepared to concentrate hard there’s certainly a very intelligent film in here.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 08/10/2007
Summary: like a stray dog...

sergeant lo (lam suet), of the anti-crime division, loses his gun after being lured by some low level triads into a beating; as he tries to recover the missing gun, he discovers that their boss, ponytail (chiu chi-shing) has been killed and his father wants revenge. lo, with the help of some colleagues from the p.t.u., led by sergeant ho (simon yam), has to find his gun before the loss is reported in the morning. lo's predicament worsens as he finds himself playing cat and mouse with the c.i.d., led by sergeant kat (ruby wong), and stuck between two triad families; one who has a good relationship with lo and one who may have his gun...

yep, i really enjoyed this. the whole atmosphere of the film is great; the backdrop of deserted hong kong streets, in the early hours of morning, are practically a character themselves. whilst johnnie to creates a really slick narrative, which may appear simplistic, but is rich with tension, drama, humour and is never less than completely engaging.

the film has been criticised for a lack of characterisation, but this is nonsense: be it lam suet, simon yam, ruby wong or any other character in the film, after only minutes on screen, you know exactly who their characters are and what they're about. all credit to them, especially lam suet, and johnnie to.

great stuff...

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 09/01/2005
Summary: Yam and Lam shred.

Director Johnnie To Kei-Fung returns to top form with tense police drama. Cinematography, art direction, and film editing combine to create intensely moody atmosphere. Simon Yam and Lam Suet shred scene after scene with exquisite portrayals of Hong Kong cops living and working in desperate, dangerous conditions. Excellent supporting cast fill in finely drawn characters that populate brilliant screenplay.

[En español] Director Johnnie To Kei-Fung regresa a la parte superior con forma tensa policía drama. Cinematografía, arte dirección, y la edición el cine se combinan para crear atmósfera intensamente malhumorados. Simon Yam y Lam Suet más mínima escena tras escena con retratos exquisitos de Hong Kong policías que viven y trabajan en
desesperada, condiciones peligrosas. Excelente elenco de apoyo rellenar caracteres que señala finamente poblar brillante guión.

copyright 2003 j.crawford

more at

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 06/26/2005
Summary: Very deliberate, quite enthralling

The characters in PTU move v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y through the deserted Hong Kong nightscape as two sets of police officers and two triads converge for a final showdown. They are connected by Sgt. Lo who is a tough, corrupt and not very fastidious anti-crime cop.

Sgt. Mike Ho of the PTU is beautifully underplayed by the indispensable Simon Yam. Ho is a cop to be feared—-he is willing to kick a witness half to death, break enough regulations to have his entire team fired and lie without hesitation to superior officers. Sgt. Kat, played by Maggie Shaw, is his counterbalance on the team. She is a by the book officer or at least as much as she can be in Ho’s amoral universe. Kat turns out to be the best of both worlds, trying to keep Ho in line while at the same time being loyal to him. Ruby Wong plays the stiff, efficient and organized CID officer Leigh Cheng. Cheng wants to solve a murder and also discover how the scurrilous Sgt. Lo is involved in it. She is a tough “Yes, Madam” throughout most of the movie.

There are some beautifully lit and brilliantly composed shots by Cheng Siu-Keung—and the way that Johnnie To and editor Law Wing-Cheong allow the film to linger over some of them shows how languid this film is. The seemingly lethargic pace—characters often get where they are going by walking or driving very leisurely—is effective in building anticipation toward outbreaks of violence. The effective score by Chung Chi Wing matches the mood of the film quite well.


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by:
Date: 03/19/2005
Summary: Milkyway goodness

There are no real standout performances in PTU (except for maybe Lam Suet), but the actors all serve the film well in complementing its distinct moonlit mood. The film is pure atmosphere- with lovely cinematography by Milkyway Image regular Cheng Siu Keung, whose camera style is almost as much a trademark of the company as Johnnie To's tight direction.

PTU is slow paced, but involving with its taut dialogue and subtle touches of humor. Though not for everyone, it's the type of film that may work better upon second viewing.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 09/18/2004
Summary: Hmmm........

i had no expectations when watching this movie, by the end i was left wondering what just happened!! A Johnnie To normally leaves you expecting the unexpected and this movie just had none of the suprises or the big twists he does in his other movies. I am not too sure why i felt this movie was average, the script was good but i felt too short, all the actors play there parts well, there is limited action until the finale, so why didn't i like it more?

I am not sure, i think i need another viewing, perhaps jumping from each main character (about 4) did upset the flow of the movie and doesnt give you enough time to like the characters on screen. One of Johnnies To's weakest movies


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: skllee
Date: 10/16/2003
Summary: Pretty? Tough? Unconvincing?

Let's start by saying that P.T.U. is a well above average film by one of the more talented of Hong Kong's current crop of directors (he's also a prolific workaholic!)

This film is back into classic Johnnie To territory - the underworld characters, the moodiness, the guns. Just as John Ford frames John Wayne and Henry Fonda against the bared stripped down harshness of Monument Valley, Johnnie To does the same with Simon Yam and Lam Suet against the burnt out neon of Hong Kong's midnight skyline.

In terms of charcterisation, I admire To's economy with dialogue and his aversion to 'fleshing-out' characters. Mainstream American cinema is obsessed with creating 'back-stories' for characters and Mainstream Hong Kong cinema tends to veer towards ludicrous plot-twists to show how a charcter reacts. Johnnie To, in his MilkyWay guise, is happy to present his characters just 'being', his actors living and breathing their roles. This restraint is among his strengths. His characters tend towards the tough reticent kind (are there any blabber-mouths in the film?) and he is equally tough with his actors, holding them back and stopping them from becoming OTT. This is a quality ALWAYS to be admired in directors.

Now let's be unkind. I can't help feeling that this film is a barely-concealed calling card to Hollywood. The stylisation of the film is an extension on his style shown in films like 'The Mission' but it seems even more slowly-paced, to the point of being stilted. His classic use of silhouetting characters with their guns held out seems too deliberate and heavy-handed - as if he wants someday for the Wachowski Bros. or Tarantino to copy him. It all seems far too 'pretty'.

Other elements of the film suffer because he pushs his pacing and 'style' too far. The interesting conflict between the old skool Anti-Triad Squad and the new suited-and-booted CID is built up but then hastily signed off at the end with the CID madam shown to be a coward. Fault lines within Simon Yam's own PTU squad aren't explored too and Ruby Wong is criminally underused (she is even harder than Simon Yam's character).

The inescapable fact for top Hong Kong directors such as Johnnie To (Andrew Lau, Peter Chan) is that they do have to make films with one eye on the domestic market and one eye on the international (mainly American) market. They can't be blamed for that and any director wants to work on bigger budgets that get seen by more people. This is how Hong Kong cinema must survive in today's post 9/11 SARS world. Even so-called 'serious' arthouse directors like WKW and Fruit Chan have to play up to their distributors and audience in order to get further films financed and made.

The shame is that films like P.T.U. become a more diluted version of Hong Kong cinema. Ultimately, in spite of its core toughness and boldness of vision, P.T.U. is strangely uninvolving and unconvincing. But if I'm really honest, I still prefer that to so much else being shown out there.

Reviewed by: YutGouHoYun
Date: 09/19/2003
Summary: PTU? P.U. is more like it!

The big Toe has yet to be masterful in plot. He should consider being action choreographer than full on director. His action sequences are masterful but movement of plot is a drag. This is one of To's worst next to Fulltime Killer a.k.a Fulltime Suck.

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/18/2003

Johnnie To made quite a name for himself with quirky crime movies such as The Mission, but lately, he has been concentrating on more commercially viable genres like romantic comedies, so his return to "classic" Milkyway (his production company) style with PTU was highly anticipated. Perhaps To's impressive body of work is this movie's downfall, because the results are a mixed bag. PTU isn't as good as some of To's previous films, but it's better than a lot of the Hollywood-wannabe or ultra-cheap dreck Hong Kong has been dishing out as of late.

The movie begins with a slam-bang sequence that recalls why To garned so much critical adoration in the first place. It's violent yet comic, confusing but intriguing, and it's gorgeous to look at -- more or less, the first reel of PTU is quintessential Hong Kong cinema. After the initial scene, we settle into the story proper, which has Lam Suet as a cop who loses his gun after a scuffle with some Triad hooligans. Afraid for his job, Lam enlists the aid of his friend Simon Yam, who plays a PTU (Police Tactical Unit) sargeant. As the body count around the missing gun begins to pile up, new groups of gangsters and cops come into the mix to try and solve the mystery, until they all meet up for a final confrontation.

The brilliant beginning, which manages to set up the characters and story in a rapid and exciting fashion, is let down by a meandering second act. One is never quite sure exactly who's who or what's what. Perhaps this was To's intention, but the slow pacing of the middle of the movie nearly kills the momentum of the opening scenes. To its' credit, PTU does end (literally) with a bang that should satisfy most Hong Kong movie fans, but it just seems to take so long to get there. It just feels like there's too many characters in the mix, and too many short scenes that are supposed to add characterization, but just end up seeming like filler.

Johnnie To is a great director, but his films almost always seem a bit bloated, and PTU is a prime example. With a little trimming, this could have been one of the greats. The movie looks spectacular, the musical score is excellent, there are several scenes of just pure bad-ass attitude, and Lam Suet and Simon Yam deliver the goods. It's just that there seems to be so much that To wanted to throw in that the main story gets a bit muddled as a result. Still, you could do much worse than a viewing of PTU. It's definitely one of the better cop/crime movies to come out this year from anywhere and is worth a look if you're into the genre, or just want to see a solid film that doesn't rely on special-effects gimmickry or cute pop stars to sell itself.

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 09/08/2003
Summary: Smooth and Well Executed

Johnnie To returns to the police/crime drama with "PTU." He takes his assured cinematic style to the level of the beat cop in this tale of a police officer, Lam Suet, and his efforts to recover his lost gun before the end of the graveyard shift. Simon Yam, as a squad leader of a Police Tactical Unit (PTU), assists Suet during the same shift. They have until dawn to recover the gun before the incident is to be officially reported. During this time, Ruby Wong, playing a CID investigator, is on her own search for information as to what is actually transpiring between Suet and the PTU squads.

Johnnie To's direction is very deliberate, quite and unassuming. He lets the characters define themselves by their actions. For example, Simon Yam's strength of conviction is implicit in how his character faces situations, which appear corrupt at every turn. When physical coercion is exercised, the violence is startling. Although the main protagonists are police, they seem to live by an unwritten code of ethics that borders on moral ambiguity: That means living in the gray areas where bending the rules to the breaking point is necessary. The cinematography by Cheng Siu-keung heightens this moral decay as the characters are presented in harsh shadows and reflected light. There are no soft edges. Chung Chi Wing's music perfectly captures the film's deliberate pace and complements the cinematography.

"PTU" tells its story in a tight 88 minutes. The script by Yau and Au is a tad too tidy and clean and coincidental, but the deft execution is what makes this film so enjoyable. The standouts are Simon Yam, Maggie Siu and Ruby Wong. Lam Suet is quite good but his braying performance is too affected.

Johnnie To's smooth direction in "PTU" furthers the work illustrated in "The Mission" where characters are heavily defined by their actions and the consequences thereof, which lends to elaborating where dialogue is sparse. It is with an unflinching eye that To is able to capture portrayals that are so full bodied and speak volumes in character development.

Reviewed by: Wilpuri
Date: 07/30/2003
Summary: beautiful.

One of the best Johnnie To movies... which means that this is just awesome movie. I actually haven't seen any BAD movies from To.

This movie is very slow, dark and beautiful. The story is very interesting (It's not about saving the world or anything... it's just about one little thing leading to another... and so on) and the cast is great. Lam Suet is THE man... again.

Those who think that MTV is a great channel and Matrix is the best movie ever I would like to say this: Don't expect lot's of action or cool camera tricks or fast editing. Even the action scenes in this movie are slow, peaceful and beatiful... so you MTV people would propably just get BORED when wathching this movie...

... but highly recommended for people who have patience and enjoy watching slowpaced and dark crimemovies...

5/5 points.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 07/27/2003

To me, the early Milkyway films still represent some of the best work to come out of HK in the 90s, and so I couldn't wait to watch this new Johnny To film that was supposedly a departure from his recent string of romance comedies and a return to the darker style of the early Milkyway output.

Does PTU deliver against those admittedly high expectations? I think so. Unlike Fulltime Killers, which seemed marred by a number of factors (Andy Lau's vanity, bad English dialogue and a misplaced, ultimately unsuccessful desire to please an international audience), or the rather hollow stylistic exercise that was ROOT2, PTU is firmly anchored around a strong, intelligent screenplay and develops emotional impact through convincing performances from the ensemble cast (including Simon Yam, and Milkyway regulars Lam Suet and Ruby Wong) and Johnny To's tight, restrained directing.

The story unfolds over the course of one night in TsimShatTsui, and involves a cop (Lam Suet) frantically trying to recover his stolen gun, aided by a PTU unit led by Simon Yam. Also involved are a CID inspector played by Ruby Wong, and two competing triad gangs who are heading for a bloody showdown.

The actors are uniformly good, but Simon Yam is the standout as a stoic, silent cop with a rather sadistic streak. He underplays his role to great effect, and delivers a memorable performance.

The movie moves along at a brisk pace, and effectively develops both plot elements and character details. The final showdown was a bit contrived and gimmicky, and some interspersed elements (e.g. the kid on the bicycle) seemed a little grafted on, but overall, Johnny To has delivered a well-crafted ensemble piece that I would rank as one of the best movies of recent years. Along with other recent success stories such as Infernal Affairs, it gives me renewed hope that the HK movie industry is starting to get out of its prolonged slump and is starting to once again become a unique creative film market.