PTU [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (17th June 2021).
The Film

China Film Media Award (Best Director - Hong Kong/Taiwan): Johnnie To (winner), Best Film - Hong Kong/Taiwan (nominee), Best Screenplay - Hong Kong/Taiwan: Kin-Yee Au and Nai-Hoi Yau (nominee), Best Actor - Hong Kong/Taiwan: Simon Yam (nominee), and Best Supporting Actress - Hong Kong/Taiwan: Maggie Siu (nominee) - Chinese Film Media Awards, 2004
Golden Bauhinia: Best Picture (winner), Best Director: Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai (winner), Best Actor: Simon Yam (winner), Best Supporting Actor: Suet Lam (winner), Best Screenplay: Kin-Yee Au and Nai-Hoi Yau (winner), Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Siu (winner), and Best Cinematography: Siu-Keung Cheng (nominee) - Golden Bauhinia Awards, 2004
Golden Horse Award (Best Original Screenplay): Kin-Yee Au and Nai-Hoi Yau (winner), Best Feature Film (nominee), Best Director: Johnnie To (nominee), Best Leading Actor: Simon Yam (nominee), Best Supporting Actor: Suet Lam (nominee), Best Cinematography: Siu-Keung Cheng (nominee), Best Visual Effects: Stephen Ma (nominee), Best Makeup & Costume Design: Sukie Yip (nominee), Best Original Film Score: Chi Wing Chung (nominee), Best Film Editing: Wing-Cheong Law (nominee), and Best Sound Effects: Martin Richard Chappell (nominee) - Golden Horse Film Festival, 2003
Hong Kong Film Award (Best Director): Johnnie To (winner), Best Picture (nominee), Best Actor: Simon Yam (nominee), Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Siu (nominee), Best Screenplay: Kin-Yee Au and Nai-Hoi Yau (nominee), Best Cinematography: Siu-Keung Cheng (nominee), Best Film Editing: Wing-Cheong Law (nominee), Best Original Film Score: Chi Wing Chung (nominee), Best Sound Effects (nominee), and Best Visual Effects: Stephen Ma (nominee) - Hong Kong Film Awards, 2004
Film of Merit (winner) and HKFCS Award (Best Director): Johnnie To (winner) - Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards, 2004

When juvenile triad leader Ponytail (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky's Chi-Shing Chiu) is the victim of a hit, corrupt Sergeant Lo Sa (Kung Fu Hustle's Suet Lam) – who had been ambushed and beaten up by a group of toughs he intimidated and humiliated – fears that his stolen gun was used in the murder. He appeals for help from Sergeant Mike Ho (Election's Simon Yam) of the PTU (Police Tactical Unit) to help him track down the weapon. Even after they discover that Ponytail had been stabbed, Lo worries about what crime his weapon might be used in that might expose his dirty dealings, especially once organized crime's Inspector Cheng (Running Out of Time's Ruby Wong) takes over the investigation.

Out of misguided loyalty, Mike puts his teammates – including scrupulous Kat (Breaking News' Maggie Siu) and the unit's idealistic new orderly (Throw Down's Moon-Yuen Cheung) – in the difficult position of postponing the report on Lo's assault until he can track down the gun. While Cheng and her team are extracting information about the hit from various informants, Mike's team are getting restless and losing their confidence in his leadership. Both Cheng and Mike suspect Lo of not being entirely on-the-level, and their separate investigations are about to come to a head in a brutal confrontation when Lo is coerced by Ponytail's triad leader father Bald Head (The Grandmaster's Hoi-Pang Lo) into delivering into his clutches Ponytail's rival Eyeball (Duel to the Death's Eddy Ko) even though Lo has come to believe that he was not behind the hit.
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A passion project for director Johnnie To shot over a period of three years during which he also helmed other projects, PTU is indicative of the artier, more stylistically-ambitious and character-driven works he would undertake at the turn of the century, being less concerned with the plot twists and machinations than their effect on the characters' sense of honor and duty (even those criminally-compromised); as such, coming across as the nexus in the forking path of his follow-up works: the romantic, melancholic, and funny Throw Down and the more conventional yet satirical thriller Breaking News. Conflicting views of what it means to be a cop are raised early on in the aftermath of the team learning of an armored truck robbery and a murdered officer. When one of team recalls the man's ineptitude with humor, Mike admonishes "what if someone heard you" in the sense of eroding the public's perception of police unity. Kat's take on the same remark is what if a member of the victim's family overheard, and her belief that getting home to one's own family every night is more important; as such, Mike is more sympathetic to Lo's jam while Kat's ability to do her job in a no-nonsense manner like that of Inspector Cheng is undermined by Mike's orders. Two sequences depicting Mike intimidating one of Ponytail's cousin by repeatedly slapping one of the latter's underlings to the point of exhaustion (and temporary deafness for the unfortunate actor behind the scenes) and Inspector Cheng's team roughing up one of Ponytail's associates turn out to be the performances of two kinds of rituals in that Ponytail's cousin cannot simply accede to Mike's demands verbally while the associate turns out to be an undercover cop who also cannot be perceived by others too readily coughing up information to the cops.

To's pacing is such that that one starts to intuit in the many scenes of characters standing around – posed or positioned strikingly in noir-ish compositions of dark alleys and parking lots – a strategic inaction to draw out and delay an investigation that has the unintended side effect of making Mike seem uncharacteristically indecisive or suspected of being implicated in Lo's dealings with the expressions of Kat, Cheng, and the orderly conveying volumes more than the more impertinent remarks of the brasher members of the team. In the climax, one down-on-their-luck character stumbles upon a miraculous stroke of luck while a more forthright character's unintentional dereliction of duty makes it necessary for all involved to participate in a cover up that seemingly all can justify if only because of the ends achieved. The ensuing slow motion aria of gunfire and squibs feels more obligatory and less visceral than the almost comical stabbing of Ponytail, the aforementioned hand- and face-numbing slapping scene, a brutal kick to the a prostitute's chest that leaves a shoe print on the front of her undershirt, or even Lo's exhaustion that causes him to keel over after trying to chase down a thug who keyed his car; so much so, that one might even overlook the show of interdepartmental unity in the coverup as related by each officer in snippets before the final fade to black. The style that evolved in this film would be an influence on some of To's more conventionally-plotted, internationally better-known films including Election and Vengeance.

Video

In spite of sweeping the various Chinese territory award ceremonies, PTU was largely unavailable in the West until 2004's stateside Tai Seng release – identical to the Hong Kong Mei Ah DVD import released the previous year – which was fortunately superseded by a Dragon Dynasty edition in 2008, while the UK did not get the film until Third Window Films' 2007 British DVD. Hong Kong label Mei Ah also put out an English-friendly barebones Blu-ray release in 2008. Unlike some of their other Hong Kong remasters, Eureka only advertises their release as a "1080p presentation on Blu-ray" suggesting that their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentation may be derived from the same master. If that is the case, then it was quite a good HD master from an early time for the format with none of the issues of Fortune Star's HD masters (sometimes upscales) from the same period. Blacks are deep, the overhead street lighting looks appropriately harsh, and saturated primaries from blood to lighting gels pop with only some noise in underexposed shadows.
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Audio

While the Hong Kong Blu-ray offered up an uncompressed LPCM 7.1 Canontese track and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Cantonese and Mandarin tracks, Eureka includes the early Dolby Digital soundtrack in Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo options as well as an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub track. It should go without saying that the 5.1 Cantonese track is the way to go – the English dub is respectable but some deliveries might provoke unintended chuckles – while the 2.0 downmix does a good job as well. English HoH subtitles are available for the dub while the subtitles for the Cantonese track reveal some of the liberties taken by the English dub.
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Extras

Extras start off with a new audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival in which Djeng provides some background on the British paramilitary origins of the Police Tactical Unit and the plot's borrowings from Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog and a real-life incident involving a lost police gun. He also provides detail on the real locations used in the film, some anecdotes of the shooting, and the recurring To touches as well as his stable of actors and crew members present in the film. Ported over from the Tai Seng/Mei Ah release is an interview with director Johnnie To and actor Simon Yam (18:14), one after the other, in which To discusses the themes of the police bond and methods of information extraction as well as the male bias in his storytelling and the female characters in the film. Yam recalls being excited to play a cop and reflects on how different the role was from his other parts, as well as the challenge of communicating emotion through indifference.
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Ported over from the Dragon Dynasty release are at trio of interviews from 2008. In "Into the Perilous Night" (13:27), To recalls the origins of the story, getting to shoot the film over a period of three years while working on other films, and the use of generally older cast members in the film. In "On the Trail of the Smoking Gun" (21:49), Yam recalls that there was no finished script and how consistent To managed to be while shooting scenes out of order of a period of three years, how the actors had to anticipate periods of resume shooting and how To had to adapt to changes (including cancelling a shoot when Siu turned up on set ten pounds heavier). In "Cool as a Kat" (12:51), Siu recalls having self-doubt about playing the character but finding that To knew what he wanted out of her, the process of standing by in the day, rehearsing for an hour in the evening, and then shooting until dawn, as well as noting that the film is a story not an expose of police methods. The disc closes out with a theatrical trailer (2:11)

Packaging

The first 2,000 units come with a limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Grégory Sacré (Gokaiju), as well as a collector's booklet featuring new writing by David West (NEO Magazine) not provided for review.

Overall

A passion project for director Johnnie To shot over a period of three years during which he also helmed other projects, PTU is indicative of the artier, more stylistically-ambitious and character-driven works he would undertake at the turn of the century, coming across as the nexus in the forking path of his follow-up works: the romantic, melancholic, and funny Throw Down and the more conventional yet satirical thriller Breaking News.

 


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