Tactical Unit: No Way Out (2009) Movie Review

“Tactical Unit – No Way Out” is the second in the series of new films following on from Johnnie To’s acclaimed 2003 police thriller “PTU”. This time around Lawrence Lau, previously responsible for the excellent “My Name is Fame”, steps up to direct, with To acting as producer. Giving a nice sense of continuity, the cast from the original and first sequel “Tactical Unit – The Code” all return, including stars Simon Yam and Maggie Siu, along with familiar faces Lam Suet, Derek Tsang and Samuel Pang. Although the series is known for its gritty plotlines and non-judgemental approach, the film is even more downbeat than its predecessors, though no less gripping.

The film takes place largely in the Temple Street district, where the gangs and police co-exist in an uneasy balance. Trouble arises one night when a man is killed and the police decide to step up their efforts and crackdown on the gangs, squeezing their cash flow and making them more desperate. Bearing the brunt of the upheaval is Fai, a small time cigarette seller who not only loses his job but is accused by his gang brothers of being a police snitch. Beaten and despised, and with no way to support his prostitute girlfriend, he struggles to make ends meet, only for things to get worse. Pushed to the edge, he begins to plan revenge against those he holds responsible, namely the police, in particular Sergeant Sam (Simon Yam).

Interestingly, “Tactical Unit – No Way Out” focuses mainly on Fai and his troubles, with the police and the other gangs for the first hour or so only acting as bit players. This approach works very well, as it helps to distinguish the film somewhat from the others in the series rather than simply offering another tale following a police case. Fai is a sympathetic, if wretched character, and his story is engaging, though rather depressing, as the poor man spends most of the film being beaten or blamed by pretty much everyone, without ever really getting a break. As a result, the film is grim and bleak, with little in the way of false hope or even cathartic revenge. As with the others in the series, it takes an even handed look at the police and gangs and the way that they collaborate in order to achieve a certain harmony, with a mixture of honour and underhanded dealings on both sides.

The film pulls no moral punches, with no straight definitions of right and wrong, and although providing a humanistic portrayal of the police as flawed though basically trying their best, it never shies away from the brutality of their actions, with most investigations revolving around pulling a suspect into a dark alleyway and kicking the hell out of him (sometimes kindly removing their shoes first). Although quite depressing, the film is not necessarily a nihilistic affair, with everything having a sense of cause and effect, and with both the police and gangs, chiefly Fai and Sergeant Sam, essentially being tied together by karma or fate. As such, the film is gripping both in terms of its tense narrative and its fascinating themes, and certainly has far more depth than the average crime thriller.

Lau’s direction is tight and he keeps things moving along at a good pace without ever needing to throw in the kind of unnecessary action scenes that might have upset the film’s sense of realism. Shot with a naturalistic style, it makes for convincing viewing, and brings the seedy streets to life, providing a believable sense of the dangers of the criminal underworld. Inevitably, the film is a brutal affair, much more so than the previous entries in the series, with a number of particularly savage beatings and a protracted gang rape scene giving it a tough, visceral edge. Since the characters are well drawn and sympathetic, especially Fai and his long-suffering girlfriend, this does make the film quite hard to watch at times, especially since Lau makes it clear from the start that a happy ending is not on the cards for anyone.

“Tactical Unit – No Way Out” improves on “The Code”, and sees the series continue to establish itself as offering high quality crime drama. Gripping from the start and steadfastly avoiding the easy route, the film is a must-see, not only for viewers who have been following its predecessors, but indeed for anyone who enjoys tough thrillers.

Lawrence Ah Mon (director) / Kam-Yuen Szeto, Lik-Kei Tang (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Yam, Maggie Siu, Suet Lam, Osman Hung, Samuel Pang, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Man Shing Wong, Otto Wong

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