Tactical Unit - The Code (2008)
Directed by: Law Wing-Cheong
Tactical Unit - The Code is the first of currently five planned TV-movies based on the Johnnie To movie PTU from 2003. A return to the form for master To way back when in 2003, the dubious morals of the main characters (in particular Simon Yam's cop) made for stylish, atmospheric and intriguing exploration the Johnnie To way but it would be forced if director Law Wing-Cheong (1*) tried to emulate during this spin-off. On his own, he's made marks as director (in particular his romantic comedy Hooked On You) and no one would mind if he decided beforehand to make the PTU universe plain looking. There's multiple stories to be told and not all must be quirky, devoid of dialogue or have hypnotic slow-motion gunplay. Continuing on logically from the thread of cops pushing the limits of what needs to be done in the name of the law as seen in the 2003 movie, Tactical Unit - The Code is an interesting start despite suffering from flat execution. Where it gains a lot is via its ideas.
Not covered fully by an alleyway surveillance camera where they beat up loan shark Shing (Cheung Wing-Cheung), the PTU team lead by Sergeant Lee Wing Sam (Simon Yam) are now under suspicion of having beaten a suspect. Trying to catch Shing before fellow colleagues or higher up divisions such as CAPO (the anti-corruption unit) does, what the team also has to deal with is the debts of Eight (Lee Gwok-Lun). Coming clean to report that he turned to loan sharks, he's now being demoted to lesser duties and is being pushed towards the edge of insanity by his superior Wong (Lin Wai-Kin)...
Changing the names for characters such as Yam's, Maggie Siu's and Lam Suet's (who appears in support as one of the supporters of Yam's), they are in essence given the same traits to work with. It's especially interesting to watch the quiet, almost robotic Sam whose either is a cyborg or a human carrying any stressful moments on the inside. Needing to both care for the petty crimes and fellow colleagues in order to not arise suspicion about his illegal activities when executing the law, also the question arises if the theme of a bad cop needs more a continuation from PTU. Within the limited time frame that movie was set in, having Yam exhibiting "only" that depth of leaning towards methods his way was part of the suitable, valid atmosphere created by Johnnie To. Director Law Wing-Cheong takes Tactical Unit - The Code into a more conventional looking mode where the striking, foreboding presences of a team of PTU officers aren't as cinematic anymore. Law actually pushes for stillness in the frame in a wrong way as it doesn't look as striking when they're surrounded by the Hong Kong streets lit ordinarily (and in daylight too!).
Well thankfully the focus and themes are steered towards something more real via the story strand of the character of Eight. Touching upon social issues such as the difficulties a man like that has to survive financially, he sees the problem free Sam going about his questionable business casually and of course questions an entire system that clearly doesn't seem suited for a clean conscience. Up till the point where Eight's sanity may be on the line, director Law Wing-Cheong doesn't intrigue but rather halts. The quickie format of these Tactical Unit movies is a dangerous venture as basically it can veer way of PTU and just be regular cop flicks. Why even attach it to Johnnie To and company then?
The smart move by Law and regular Milkyway writer Yip Tin-Shing turns out to be the combination of the characters of Sam and Eight turns despite little urgency in getting the work done. Getting the plot cog wheels turning takes its time and stopping them as well so even at 90 minutes, Tactical Unit - The Code outstays its welcome. Oh it's clear Law wants to showcase during the ending how structured these officers can be come crisis time and I'm sure it's only a matter of a few minutes it overstays its welcome but the effect is still there.
But I like at least the first attempt to do PTU sans the contrasting blacks and whites (literally), bizarro humour and dips into equally bizarro dungeons of the underworld. Law Wing-Cheong uses tension and skills to tie up plots (that enables, if the filmmakers chooses to do so, a development of our lead) decently and obviously we're dealing with more than just a cheapo TV movie here. Thinking they will spin these type of characters into five of these quickies on the theme however, I'm not convinced Law Wing-Cheong could do that on his own (watching the trailers on dvd will reveal he's NOT on his own). Time will also tell if the movies will adhere to somewhat of a set structure but I have a feeling producer Johnnie To wants attempts at freshness. He can do that via the producing chair but he's welcome to balance out the Law Wing-Cheong work by stepping into the directing one as well.
The DVD (Universe):
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: Photo Gallery (20 images, some of which are behind the scenes ones), trailers for Tactical Unit: No Way Out, Tactical Unit: Partners and Tactical Unit: Human Nature. What's interesting about the trailers is that we get a look at what other directors are lined up. For the former two, Lawrence Lau (My Name Is Fame, Gangs) steps in and the latter is directed by Andy Ng (The Untold Story 2).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson