Johnnie To Kei-Fung’s PTU


Michael Ingham

ISBN : 978-962-209-919-7

Film, Media, Fine Arts The New Hong Kong Cinema

March 2009

164 pages, 5.5″ x 7.5″, 26 b&w illustrations

  • HK$195.00

PTU is an underappreciated noir masterpiece by one of Hong Kong’s most prolific and commercially successful directors. Johnnie To Kei-fung has been called “the poet of post-1997 and the economic savior of the Hong Kong film industry” for an extraordinary range of films produced during some of Hong Kong cinema’s most difficult years. While many of To’s celebrated films such as Election, Exiled and The Mission feature themes of criminal glory and revenge, PTU centers on the ethical dilemmas, personal dramas and stoic teamwork in the elite Police Tactical Unit. The story follows the PTU’s all-night search for an officer’s missing gun as they navigate triad turf struggles and marauding jewel thieves from mainland China. Shot over several years in the hauntingly empty pre-dawn streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, and released coincidentally amid the 2003 SARS panic, the film evokes Hong Kong’s post-handover economic despair and multiple identity crises. In terms of character development and psychological complexity, Mike Ingham argues that PTU is the most aesthetically rigorous and satisfying of To’s many films.

Michael Ingham teaches at Lingnan University. He is the author of Hong Kong: A Cultural and Literary History (2007), and co-editor with Xu Xi of City Voices: Hong Kong Writing in English, 1945 to the Present (2003) and City Stage: Hong Kong Playwriting in English (2005).

“Ingham has produced a well-written and clearly argued analysis of PTU that will be of interest to both undergraduates and advanced readers alike. He positions his monograph very firmly in terms of emerging critical work on Johnnie To as auteur as well as other industrial, social and cultural contexts. Above all, he develops a strong argument for the film’s philosophical maturity, insisting upon its moral complexity and indeterminacy. Ingham makes a convincing case for PTU as a film that offers viewers space to think.” —Julian Stringer, University of Nottingham

PTU is a refreshing subversion of an entire Hong Kong genre of films that seek easy heroism in rogue cops out for justice and sharply dressed gangsters who live by the codes. In PTU there is no code and less justice. A bit like real life.” —Bryan Walsh, Time Asia

“The police and criminals are different sides of the same coin. Where there are thieves, there are police. Where there are police, there are thieves. You cannot have one without the other.” —Johnnie To