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“Tactical Unit – Partners” is the latest and apparently final entry in the new Johnnie To produced “PTU” series. The film was directed by Lawrence Lau, who also helmed the second in the series, “No Way Out”, as well as a number of other recently acclaimed films such as “My Name is Fame” and “Besieged City”. The film sees the return of regulars Simon Yam, Maggie Shiu, and Lam Suet, who this time are joined by Tang Ho Kwong, Tsui Tin Yau, and EO2 pair Otto Wong and Osman Hung.
The film finds the PTU squads, led as ever by Sam (Simon Yam) and May (Maggie Shiu) on alert as word spreads than an Indian crime boss called Black Molly has returned to Hong Kong and is recruiting assassins. Velu, one of his top men, who has just been released from prison and is trying to go straight, is dismayed to learn that his brother Sonu has joined the gang in his absence. As the PTU closes in on the criminals, Velu discovers that his brother has taken on the job of assassinating Chief Inspector Chan, pushing him into conflict with both the police and his former fellows.
As with “Besieged City” and several of his other films, “Tactical Unit – Partners” sees director Lau exploring social and political concerns, in this case the racism and discrimination faced by Indians, Filipinos and Nepalese in Hong Kong. The film wins points for tackling such a potentially touchy subject, and although it does overdo the whole ‘we all bleed red’ platitude, it does make some pretty harsh and searching statements about prejudice. As such, the film is as much a piece of social conscience cinema as it is a thriller, and is both engaging and rather depressingly realistic.
In each of the series one of the PTU tends to get more screen time, and the film sees Maggie Shiu getting her turn with a subplot revolving around her considering marriage, despite the fact that her prospective husband wants her to leave the force rather than to apply for promotion. At the same time, she also gets involved with helping her Filipino maid track down her illegal immigrant cousin who has stolen all of her money, an investigation which quite neatly brings her into contact with Velu and which helps to bring the film’s various narrative strands together. Shiu is on great form, and it is good to see her finally getting a larger role, having long been one of the more interesting characters of the series.
The rest of the film is concerned with the nephew of Chief Inspector Chan joining the PTU and finding it hard to fit in, not least since he keeps making mistakes and resolutely tries to do everything by the book. Although a little unnecessary, this subplot also works well, mainly as it gives another chance for Lau to portray the police as being flawed, though essentially decent human beings, and he again explores the notion that the job requires them to be problem solvers in the service of the people, rather than simply busting crooks. Through this, he throws in a number of difficult and interesting moral situations, all of which hinge upon ideas of duty versus judgement. As with the other films in the series, this makes for far more substance than the average police thriller, and adds a welcome air of gritty realism. The film’s focus is primarily on human drama, though there are a few brutal beatings and the inevitable violent shootout finale. Lau manages to maintain an air of tension throughout, with there being a grim sense of threat hanging over the proceedings. This fits well with his themes, and the viewer is pulled into the shoes of both the police and the unfortunate Velu.
It’s this moral depth which really sets “Tactical Unit – Partners”, and indeed the other new “PTU” films apart, and which makes them so gripping. Both entertaining and thought provoking, it will be a real shame if it really does prove to be the last in the current run, as the series has set a new standard for humanistic crime drama.
Lawrence Ah Mon (director)
CAST: Simon Yam, Maggie Siu, Suet Lam, Vincent Sze