AKA: Into The Perilous Night
Director: Johnnie To
Writer: Au Kin Yee, Yau Nai Hoi
Cast: Simon Yam Tat Wah, Lam Suet, Ruby Wong Cheuk Ling, Raymond Wong Ho Yin, Maggie Siu Mei Kei, Eddie Ko Hung, Wong Wa Wo, Lo Hoi Pang, Frank Lau Chung Kei, Soi Cheang Pou Soi, Wong Tin Lam
Running Time: 88 min.
PTU certainly isn’t one of Johnnie To’s best efforts, but it does manage to offer up a few surprises, and another excellent performance by Simon Yam (Bullet in the Head). The film meanders a lot during the first hour and it’s easy to lose patience with what amounts to little more than a police tactical unit walking through the dimly lit streets of Hong Kong. The plot advances here and there, primarily in the bits involving Lam Suet’s bumbling anti-crime sergeant as he searches for his missing gun, but PTU doesn’t really kick into gear (albeit a low one, like…second) until the last half hour. The snail-paced advancement of the plot is somewhat redeemed when the various threads begin to converge, but even this enjoyment was tempered by a deluge of coincidences and what-the-f*ck moments.
While PTU is one of the better Hong Kong films of the past few years (the creative use of lighting and the atmospheric score alone set it apart), I couldn’t shake the feeling that this movie would have been great (and on par with other fantastic crime dramas like The Blood Rules and the To-produced The Longest Nite) had it aimed to be a short film instead. At sixty minutes, this would have been a classic.
Alexander’s Rating: 7.5/10
I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to see Johnny To back doing a cops vs. gangsters movie. It’s been two years since his brilliant Fulltime Killer came out, and I’ve been anxiously waiting for PTU since the day I heard about it. If one were to make a movie like his terrific 1999 piece, The Mission, but instead focus it on members of the Hong Kong Police Tactical Unit and not the bodyguards of a gang boss, you’d get 2003’s PTU.
The movie’s events all take place over one night. It begins when Sergeant Lo Sa (Lam Suet [The Mission, Running Out of Time 2, and tons of other Johnny To films]), head of the Anti-Crime Division, is ambushed by a bunch of punks under the leadership of Ponytail and left beaten and bloody in an alley. When the PTU arrives to help him, his friend Sergeant Mike Ho (Simon Yam [Fulltime Killer, oh… you know who he is!]) alerts him to the fact that his gun is missing. Thinking the punks must have taken it, Sergeant Lo asks Mike to help him track down the missing gun and not to report it to the superintendent until the morning, if they can’t find it by then. Mike agrees and they split up and begin to search. At the same time that Sergeant Lo is being beaten in the alley by Ponytail’s men, Ponytail himself is stabbed and dies. Enter CID investigator Leigh Cheng (Ruby Wong [Expect the Unexpected]), who is trying to figure out who killed Ponytail. All the threads of the movie come together at the end, in a terrifically satisfying way. Great acting all around!
While I don’t know how realistic this movie is, it really blew me away in the same way The Mission did. While The Mission had more action through the entire movie, there isn’t a shot fired through most of PTU. But it felt more real, in the sense that the firing of guns was not taken lightly in this movie. It wasn’t a situation where there’s a shoot-out every few minutes between cops and gangsters, it’s a much more realistic. Human life is not simply thrown away at the pull of a trigger as it is in so many other Hong Kong films.
The mood of PTU is established through the excellent lighting and the amazing music. Since the entire movie takes place at night, all the lighting comes from street lights, lighted signs and, on occasion, overhead lighting when people are inside. This makes it feel more tense, as you can’t see what’s around the next dark corner and neither can the police. The movie moved very slowly, but not in a bad way. It more sauntered through than rushed head long. This was really felt through the slow walking of the groups of PTU officers on patrol, overlaid with terrific music. The score, done by Chung Chi Wing (composer from The Mission), was absolutely perfect for this movie. Johnny To has a habit of using really great music in his movies, and he sure knows how to pick his composers to get the biggest bang for the buck. This all set a really unique feel for a cop movie.
PTU is a perfect compliment to The Mission. Both are similar in a way, but take opposite looks at the criminal/law enforcement world. I’d heard many good things about PTU before it came out, and they were all warranted. Don’t expect a big action movie, but another Johnny To piece that you simply have to feel to enjoy.
Equinox21’s Raiting: 9/10