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Tactical Unit - The Code
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Tactical Unit - The Code

Simon Yam (front) and Roderick Lam (rear) play PTU in Tactical Unit - The Code.
Chinese: 機動部隊 - 警例  
Year: 2008  
Director: Law Wing-Cheong
  Producer: Johnnie To Kei-Fung
  Writer: Yip Tin-Shing

Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Lam Suet, Lee Kwok-Lun, Teddy Lin Chun, Chang Yung-Cheung, Lau Kwok-Shing, Lam King-Kong, Roderick Lam Chung-Kei, Luk Man-Wai

The Skinny: Decent drama and PTU connection make this interesting for Milkyway fanboys, but the underwhelming presentation and story don't really recommend themselves. Overall, Tactical Unit - The Code isn't bad for television. Those expecting PTU, however, had best brace themselves for disappointment.
by Kozo:

Never equate television with the movies. With that caveat, Tactical Unit - The Code can survive initial scrutiny, and qualify as a competent, interesting cop drama. Stare long enough however, and this TV movie isn't worthy of the Milkyway logo or Johnnie To's producer credit. Factor in this telefilm's sequel status to a little movie called PTU, and disappointment is all but guaranteed. The positives: it has Simon Yam, Lam Suet, and Maggie Siu, plus they play cops. For a movie, that's not such a huge deal, but for television, it's pretty damn awesome. Tactical Unit - The Code is television, so it gets a generous pass. Kindness - or measured judgement via reduced expectations - is a virtue.

The crew from PTU returns for Tactical Unit - The Code, the first of five PTU spinoff films that curiously do not bear the PTU name.The Code was directed by Law Wing-Cheong (Hooked on You, Two Become One), and boasts a competent script from Yip Tin-Shing (writer of too many Milkyway productions to mention). Simon Yam, Maggie Siu, and Lam Suet reprise their original roles, and are aided by Teddy Lin Chun as a senior officer, plus various unfamiliar and also familiar faces, many of whom belong to the Milkyway stable of bit players. The themes of The Code are also familiar, echoing the "cops look out for one another" creed explored so stylishly in Johnnie To's award-winning 2003 film.

The Code, however, is a lot less stylish than PTU, partially because of the telefilm's obvious lack of production values. Staging here is a bit more leaden, and Tommy Wai's score has nothing on Chung Chi-Wing's playful accompaniment to the original feature. The TV film occasionally surprises with decent lighting and art direction, recalling the dark locations and bright pools of overhead light that characterized the original film. However, that's only occasionally; at other times the film attempts terribly obvious day-for-night cinematography, and even places much of its action during the day to do away with complicated night setups. The result: a less cinematic feel, both visually and emotionally, as the stark urban atmosphere of the original is reduced to something only a shade above your average TVB drama.

Even more, the script lacks the humor and inventive surprise of the theatrical film, aiming for solid, but unremarkable cop drama. A traffic camera records an incident involving a triad member getting brutalized by three PTU officers, and members of the squad led by Sam (Simon Yam) are under suspicion. Tensions are raised between the PTU and CAPO (Complaints Against Police Office), and the whole thing is fit to burst when the suspect in a recent assault also turns out to be the caught-on-tape police brutality victim. The various teams race against each other to find the suspect/victim, with more at stake than just a single case. The outcome of the hunt could ruin the careers of decent cops, whose transgressions may be the result of nothing more than high tensions on a bad day. Will black-and-white justice or subjective shades of gray prevail?

Tactical Unit - The Code earns points for its themes, as well as its attempts to humanize Hong Kong's law enforcement individuals. These are civil servants with demanding jobs, and asking them to be perfectly behaved automatons impervious to daily stress would simply be too much. The Code presents this as rationale for its flawed cops, while also not excusing their other possible vices (in particular, the telefilm portrays many of the cops as being in exceptional debt). This attention to theme and character raises the Code from average to good television, though the uninspiring manner in which the whole is presented drops everything back down a notch. Johnnie To completists may still wish to check out The Code for its perfunctory Milkyway Image signifiers. However, expectations should be adjusted accordingly, as the telefilm only shows potential and doesn't truly capitalize upon it. One hopes that the subsequent Tactical Unit telefilms can improve upon the promise glimpsed in this initial outing. The fifth film in the series is a must-see, however: it'll be shot in 35mm and directed by Johnnie To. I'm guessing it should be much better than The Code. It should also be judged much more harshly. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2008)


• Johnnie To is not currently slated to direct an eventual Tactical Unit feature film, despite Universe Entertainment indicating those plans on marketing copy handed out at the 2007 HK Filmart. As of August 2008, the Tactical Unit series hasn't even seen play outside of film festivals or industry screening rooms. (8/15/08)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image courtesy of Universe Films Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen