Directed over the course of three years, in between and around other films made by director Johnnie To and his stars, PTU: Police Tactical Unit is an exercise in style over substance. Over the course or a single night we are taken inside the tensions and improprieties that mount up between various law enforcement groups and the gangs that run the darkened streets.
It is a film that offers little besides style. On the level of an exercise in style and technical filmmaking it is a complete success. If you are looking for a film with a deep and expansive set of themes and a storyline to get involved with, you will likely want to look elsewhere. Although, I am sure there is more here than meets the eye, I just did not have any desire to dig beneath the surface; I was not interested enough.
The story follows Sgt. Lo (Suet Lam), a bumbling officer who, following a round of musical chairs in a restaurant, pursues a thug into a dark alley. It is here that he slips on a banana peel just prior to running into a trap, thereby making the thugs' jobs all the easier. They beat Lo and leave him bloodied on the ground, and missing his gun. There lies the problem for our bumbling protagonist — an officer of the law should never lose his gun. The loss of your firearm is an offense that will be hard to overcome when you are looking to move up the ranks.
Recognizing his dilemma, Lo sets out to retrieve his weapon before anyone can find out. To aid him in his quest he enlists Sgt. Mike Ho (Simon Yam) of the PTU, leader of a four-man squad that works the night shift. Ho agrees to give Lo until dawn to find his weapon before reporting it to headquarters. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, you have to believe that nothing will go as planned. In order for there to be a movie, everything needs to go wrong.
Lo's search is most impacted by the assassination of a local gang leader known as Ponytail. This murder sets in motion a war between rival gangs, led by Ponytail's father, leader of one of the larger syndicates. Further compounding the gun hunt is the conflict between Mike Ho's squad and the squad led by Kat (Maggie Siu).