Thursday, April 12, 2007

[DVD] PTU (2003)

We're Cool Like That

The reason why I bought this was simple. Since I was on a DVD buying spree, and had picked up Johnnie To's The Mission (see review here), I thought I might as well pick up yet another of his movies which I have not watched, and so PTU presented itself because of the price, and the uber cool slip case cover.

PTU, or Police Tactical Unit, is quite unlike To's movies like the Election series, or The Mission. Here, we look at cops. Ordinary cops, who like everyone else, just want to go home safe and sound after their tour of duty. The movie started off with the sounds of the bustling streets of Hong Kong, before we find ourselves inside a police truck, with everyone in sombre mood during their trip to their patrol grounds of Tsim Sha Tsui, and listening quite ominously to an announcement over the radio regarding the death of a cop.

And so begins am eventful night, which is the time period where PTU takes place in. We follow quite a number of characters - Lam Suet as Lo from the Anti-Crime Division, whose firearm was lost during a scuffle with thugs, and forms the crux of the story in which the lives of everyone else in the movie revolves around, Maggie Siu as Kat, sergeant of her team of PTU cops, and Simon Yam as Mike, her counterpart leading the other team. It's a great character study piece of the three main characters, initially one who knows he's in lots of trouble for the loss, and desperately trying to recover it, in order to save face, and keep his reputation intact for an upcoming promotion, Kat's sense of doing what's right, following procedure, and Mike, who's willing to risk it all to help another of his own "for kay" (slang for cop).

Under To's direction, PTU is a brilliant visual piece. Creative use of light and shadow illuminates PTU, making it a visual spectacle, so much that you'll still enjoy the movie even if you turn off the volume. I particularly enjoyed the rather quiet moments which were plenty throughout the movie, rather than the usual wham-bang kind of action with guns ablazing. In fact, a shot is never even fired, until the end-all finale, combining all the separate threads of the story into one heck of a finale. What could probably raise eyebrows, are the unorthodox methods employed by the upholders of the law. You can't help but ponder over the methods, and how the lieutenants either turn a blind eye to, or are in full agreement with the provocative procedures meted out by their captain. Surely a talking point, if fire should be met with fire when dealing with scum.

There are many subtle touches in this compact tale of less than 90 minutes, with the ubiquitous mobile phone being so important as a plot element, and that strong sense of irony in the narrative. And again in To's cops and robbers / triad movies (though I may be wrong), it seemed that the cool soundtrack which is peppered throughout the film, seemed to stem from a single primary theme music, this time with some electric guitar riffs.

PTU doesn't get bogged down by wasting time explaining the many whys and how comes, and prefers to zap you right into the moment. It's the sense of contemplative urgency that makes it compelling to watch, and every turn brings something unexpected. The ending is particular interesting too, especially for those who have written statements in uniformed groups - you surely know what they're doing!

If compared with The Mission, then this Code 3 DVD from Mei Ah is relatively better in that it came packaged with an interview each with director Johnnie To and lead actor Simon Yam. Unfortunately the interview clips are not subtitled, so unless you understand Cantonese, you're at a loss.

Johnnie To shared that PTU explores underlying notions, and ideas that there is no such thing as true justice. It's also an exploration into how cops look at themselves, and amongst their colleagues. He also talks about face and reputation, and of the violence and unorthodox methods employed by the cops. This interview runs approximately 10 minutes, and a word of caution, it contains spoilers, so do not watch this segment before you watch the movie!

Continuing directly after To's interview, is one with Simon Yam. Running about 7 minutes and 25 seconds, Simon shared how this role in PTU was refreshing and extremely challenging, and revealed that the toughest scene for him was the one at the diner for supper, which called for complex emotions to be internalized and expressed. Again the interview comes without subtitles, and is in Cantonese.

Other than that, the other Special Features are the theatrical trailer which runs 2 minutes 4 seconds, a "Data Bank" section featuring a one page synopsis of the story in both English and Mandarin texts, as well as a crew and cast credits list (text based, nothing fancy), and a "Best Buy" section consisting of a trailer for a sex-comedy tele-movie titled "20|30 Dictionary" (or directly translated from Chinese as "Guy Girl Dictionary"), starring Chapman To and Athena Chu. Again, this trailer comes without any subtitles.

PTU's menu selection is animated with clips from the movie, and has scene selections over 6 chapters. Audio comes in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 either in Cantonese or Mandarin, or DTS in Cantonese. Subtitles are available in Traditional or Simplified Chinese, and in English. The English subs doesn't have any glaring inconsistencies or errors, so it's all good.

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