PTU: Special Collector’s Edition
April 14, 2008
The busy, noisy sounds of the street play over the opening credits of PTU (2003) quickly establishing the film’s gritty, no-nonsense vibe. Four young street punks beat-up an overweight police detective known as Fatty and steal his gun. The Police Tactical Unit led by Sergeant Ho (Yam) vow to find and retrieve the gun by morning in order to save Fatty’s upcoming promotion. Meanwhile, he buys a gun off the street and decides to take matters into his own hands.
Sgt. Ho’s methods are efficient and ruthless as they are methodical, much like the film itself which is trimmed of any narrative fat in order to tell a simple story. Sgt. Ho isn’t above slapping around a potential suspect for information or planting drugs on another in order to get results. However, both Fatty and Sgt. Ho have to be careful and keep their investigation on the down-low and avoid CID who, in their equally merciless way, are investigating a related case – the murder of the street punks’ leader. Over the course of the film, these two cases will overlap and everyone’s lives get more complicated. However, the story is never hard to follow.
Director Johnnie To uses the night-time setting effectively, shrouding the streets in foreboding shadows with the Police Tactical Unit prowling the deserted avenues and alleyways for potential leads and suspects. The way he shoots the city, with its glowing neon signs juxtaposed with inky black darkness inhabited by ultra-professional cops, suggests Michael Mann’s crime epic, Heat (1995). Johnnie To doesn’t bother with developing the personalities of the other PTU members. We don’t know what motivates Sgt. Ho except for some kind of cop-style fraternal loyalty. Fatty’s motivation is pretty clear – he wants his gun back – but beyond that we don’t know anything about him, which is fine. The popular TV show Law & Order doesn’t feel the need to flesh out its characters and instead the story takes precedence. Such is the case with PTU.
PTU feels like a morally ambiguous variation on film version of SWAT (2003) but filtered through Mann’s aesthetic. It is certainly a well-made film with excellent performances but one gets the feeling that there is not much substance to transcend above merely an expertly made genre exercise.
There is an audio commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan. He kicks things off, appropriately enough, by talking about the source of the film’s title and the origins of the project. He proceeds to run through the cast as they appear on-screen and gives us their brief career profiles. Logan also takes us through the various locations used in the film and a brief background to many of them. Finally, he provides all kinds of insight into Chinese street culture in this very informative track.
“On the Trail of the Smoking Gun: An Exclusive Interview with Leading Man Simon Yam.” He talks about working with Johnnie To and how not having a script to work from freed him up as an actor. Yam also talks about the filmmaker’s working methods, like shooting some scenes 50-100 times. Even the cast did not know how the film would end. He also points out that it took three years to shoot the film and he had to stay the same weight and have the same haircut over this entire time!
“Into the Perilous Night: An Exclusive Interview with Acclaimed Director Johnnie To.” He took three years to make this film because it was a personal, experimental work that he shot in-between seven other film that he was contractually obligated to make. The director talks about how he cast the actors in his films and why he picked the people he did for PTU.
“Cool as a Kat: An Exclusive Interview with Leading Lady Maggie Siu.” She has worked with Johnnie To on several occasions and admires his working methods. She also praises the collaborative spirit of the cast and crew. Siu describes a typical day of filming and shares some anecdotes from making PTU.
Finally, there are two trailers.