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PTU (July 1/04)

There's no doubt that Johnny To is a talented filmmaker; that PTU is even a little bit entertaining is thanks to his creative camerawork. His problem seems to be an inability to pick a decent script, something that's becoming increasingly clear thanks to films like this one and Fulltime Killer. Whether or not To possesses more than a flashy sense of style remains to be seen, and PTU certainly isn't the movie to prove otherwise.

Set entirely over the course of one night, the film follows a bumbling cop as he attempts to retrieve the gun he lost after slipping on a banana peel (no, really). Said cop, named Sgt. Lo (Suet Lam), enlists the help of the head of the Police Tactical Unit, Sgt. Mike Ho (Simon Yam), in recovering the weapon. Meanwhile, two rival gangs are preparing for a bloody confrontation - spurred on by the murder of Ponytail, the son of a high-ranking criminal.

PTU opens with a fantastic scene set inside a restaurant, where three characters - Ponytail, Sgt. Lo, and Ponytail's assassin - compete over seating arrangements in a game of one-upmanship that continues to escalate until Ponytail receives a knife to the back. To does a fantastic job of filming this sequence, effectively using the widescreen frame to keep all three characters in view - while offsetting the tension with palpable moments of comedy.

Unfortunately, though, the film goes quickly downhill from there. The entire midsection of PTU is almost exclusively devoted to Sgt. Lo's search for his missing gun, with Sgt. Ho's similar efforts also documented. Like another recent film about a cop that loses a firearm, the appropriately titled The Missing Gun, the concept alone isn't enough to keep things interesting throughout.

As mentioned earlier, To's direction prevents the movie from becoming an all-out bore and the fact that the film takes place entirely at night is certainly an intriguing stylistic choice. Yet all the moody cinematography in the world can't disguise the inherently dull screenplay, which is inordinantly preoccupied with having its characters walk (a lot). Not since Gerry has there been a film with so much walking, and though Gerry didn't have a shred of plot going for it, it was ultimately a much more entertaining and rewarding experience.

The movie picks up right towards the end with a fantastic shoot-out done entirely in slow motion that's undeniably impressive, but not enough to make the viewer forget everything that came before it.

out of

© David Nusair