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Year of release: 2003
Genre: cop drama
Director: Johnnie To
Stars: Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Maggie Siu, Ruby Wong, Raymond Wong
Rated IIB for violence
VCD Review / DVD Review

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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