Style does not trump substance in Johnnie To’s PTU because the style is the substance. The film ostensibly concerns a plainclothes officer’s selfish attempt to retrieve his stolen pistol before his underlings report him to Police Tactical Unit headquarters, but in the film’s elaborate surfaces and moody set pieces, To evokes a tremulous power dynamic between various Hong Kong gangs and police forces, beginning with a startling game of musical chairs inside a restaurant that pits a seemingly clueless patron against officer Lo (Lam Suet) and a group of thugs led by the vicious Ponytail. Via their constantly ringing cellphones and the water that leaks from an overhead air conditioner, To cunningly reinforces the near-silent acts of aggression exchanged between the three sparring groups. The suddenness and ferocious beauty of the film’s violence is trumped only by its unexpected wellsprings. One phenomenal set piece follows the next, each and every one hung up in one way or another with the police corruption that runs unharnessed in the film’s noirish netherworld. “Play your game, you’re dying,” the police officer says to a kid playing a violent video game, half-consciously pointing to that war between pop culture and reality that exists in so many To films, especially in Fulltime Killer. The director reveals his sleights of hands with cocky detachment, successfully sustaining the film’s existential panic right up until the last-act ironic conundrum. The closing confessionals are ultimately superfluous to this subtle, cyclical meditation on the corrosive, roll-off effect of violence.
- Palm Pictures
- 87 min
- Johnnie To
- Au Kin-Yee, Yau Nai-Hoi
- Lam Suet, Simon Yam, Ruby Wong, Maggie Siu, Eddy Ko, Lo Hoi-Pang, Raymond Wong, Jerome Fung, Frank Michael Liu
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