The new “Tactical Unit” series inspired by Johnnie To’s classic “PTU” continues with the latest instalment “Human Nature”, which offers up another tale of morally ambiguous cops and their struggle to uphold the law while battling their own personal demons. With To again serving as producer, the directorial reigns this time were handed to Andy Ng Yiu Kuen, best known to exploitation film fans for “The Untold Story 2” back in 1998. Ensuring a welcome sense of continuity are returning series regulars and Milkyway veterans Simon Yam, Maggie Shiu, and Lam Suet, with Gordon Lam jumping onboard in a villainous role.
After beginning with a shootout in which robbers from Mainland China manage to evade squad leaders Sam (Simon Yam) and May (Maggie Shiu), the plot focuses mainly on officer Tong (Lam Suet), an unfortunate man who has run up an insurmountable debt with an unpleasant loan shark (Gordon Lam). With his police career on the line (in Hong Kong, police officers who run up debts and borrow money are immediately placed under suspicion and are often disciplined) and hounded by his creditor, Tong decides to hide out in a hotel. By an odd twist of fate, his room turns out to be next door to that of the gang from the Mainland. Unaware of his profession, they attempt to engage his services as a getaway driver, leading him to a difficult choice.
As with the other “Tactical Unit” films and indeed the original “PTU”, the real strength of “Human Nature” lies in its characters and gripping storytelling. All of the series’ trademark moral ambiguities and blurred lines between right and wrong are present and correct, and are given a fresh and compelling spin thanks to Lam Suet’s excellent turn as the wretched Tong. As a classic bit part player in so many other Johnnie To and Milkway films, fans will appreciate seeing him making the most of a rare chance to take centre stage. A classic case of human weakness, although not an obviously sympathetic protagonist, his plight gradually wins over the viewer, with his long and painful road to self respect being an engaging and unpredictable one. Simon Yam is on similarly impressive form as a cop only too aware of the harsh practical realities of police life, and who spends most of the running time trying to save his friend from himself. The film certainly displays a level of depth most uncommon in other thrillers, and is a humanistic and philosophical affair that holds the interest throughout.
The film has more action than the others in the series, with a number of gun battles and car chases, and though the subplot involving the gang of robbers initially seems like an unnecessary addition, it quickly becomes the focal point for Tong’s development. Things do get quite violent in places, enough so to give the proceedings a hardboiled feel which fits well with its challenging themes. Since the viewer actually cares for the characters, the action scenes have a definite edge, and a palpable sense of threat. Director Kuen manages to maintain an impressive level of tension throughout and keeps things moving along at an exciting pace. Although the budget was obviously fairly low, he turns this to the film’s advantage, giving it a sense of street smart realism with a few instances of cinematic flair.
“Human Nature” keeps up the high standard of the “Tactical Unit” series and sees it continue to provide some of the better police thrillers of recent years. Morally complex and painfully human, the film is a no-brainer for fans, and should certainly be enjoyed by any genre viewers in search of grounded, intelligent excitement. A highlight of Lam Suet’s career, his star turn shows him to be an expert at portraying flawed but good hearted humanity, and will hopefully lead to the ever-present character actor winning more substantial roles.
Andy Ng (director)
CAST: Simon Yam … Sam
Maggie Siu … May
Suet Lam … Fat Tong
Ka Tung Lam