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Tactical Unit - Comrades in Arms

Maggie Siu and Simon Yam on patrol in Tactical Unit - Comrades in Arms.
Chinese: 機動部隊 - 同袍  
Year: 2009  
Director: Law Wing-Cheong
  Producer: Johnnie To Kei-Fung
  Writer: Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee

Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Lam Suet, Ben Wong Chi-Yin, Samuel Pang King-Chi, Tommy Yuen Man-On, Vincent Sze, Lam King-Kong, Lam To-Kuen, Wong Wah-Ho

The Skinny: An entertaining if minor genre entry, Comrades in Arms proves be much better than its fellow PTU spinoff, the shot-on-video The Code. For a low budget Hong Kong movie, Comrades in Arms impresses, and director Law Wing-Cheong does his producer Johnnie To proud. A solid Milkyway Image film.
by Kozo:

Johnnie To's PTU characters are back, and they're the same flawed but respectable law enforcers that you remember. Tactical Unit - Comrades In Arms is the second of Milkyway Image's PTU spinoffs to see release (though other installments were shot previously), and features the return of director Law Wing-Cheong, who also directed Tactical Unit - The Code. The major cast members reprise their roles, though Fat Lo (Lam Suet) has since been demoted from CID to PTU driver, and Sam (Simon Yam) and May (Maggie Siu) now appear to be at odds, if not engaged in some unacknowledged sexual tension. Maybe one of those yet-to-be-released Tactical Unit films offers an explanation for these changes.

Things are also different behind the camera. The Code was shot on HD-video and only found play at film fests (it has yet to be released to the general public), while Comrades was shot on film and is receiving an actual theatrical release. Also, PTU composer Chung Chi-Wing is back on board (Tommy Wai handled the score for The Code), and the script by Au Kin-Yee and Yau Nai-Hoi better echoes the Milkway house style with its irony and oblique character development. The result: an entertaining and more cinematic spinoff to PTU that's somewhat minor, but still very effectively told. Comrades in Arms isn't a true return to PTU, but its familiar themes and solid craft should please both Johnnie To and Milkyway Image fans.

Sam and May lead separate four-man PTU squads, but there's a heated rivalry between their two teams that borders on hostile. The squad is due for regular turnover anyway, with some of their number graduating onto other duties, but things turn punchy at the farewell party, with squad members trading insults and blows. Also, some of Sam's men utter distasteful comments about May buttering up commanding officer Ho (Ben Wong), with the insinuation that she may be using her gender to curry favor. Ho is also at odds with the demoted Fat Lo, whose disdain towards his superior officer begins to cross the line into insubordination. Ultimately, all the tension spills over into the squad's final assignment together. A trio of armed Mainland thieves has retreated to the hills, and the PTU is assigned to search the area. Will their lack of teamwork doom them, or will they finally discover that elusive cop camaraderie?

Comrades in Arms possesses some of the same edgy irony and cinematic storytelling that made PTU so enthralling, but its spirit is closer to Johnnie To's reverent Lifeline than his award-winning deconstructionist crime thrillers. Comrades is the age-old story of a dysfunctional group who, when the chips are down, learn to put aside their differences and act as a team. That theme lends itself to corny sentiments, and some dialogue certainly comes off that way. Many characters are just types, and the ultimate pro-police feelings may turn off viewers who have a thing against the Man. Also, the setting is unusual; Comrades takes place almost entirely in the day in a remote mountainous area - a far cry from the stark urban noir atmosphere of PTU. The narrative features fewer distinct set pieces, with much of the action feeling familiar if not repetitive. Reportedly, the filmmakers were limited to a low budget, and sometimes it clearly shows.

At the same time, it's impressive that the filmmakers could get so much with so little. For a low-budget Hong Kong film, Comrades in Arms is exemplary. This is less a cat-and-mouse crime film than a wandering-about-in-the-dark one; the cops and criminals ultimately criss-cross all over the mountain, splitting up and running into friend and foe alike as they stumble deeper into the mountains and closer to their individual lessons or realizations. What they learn is rather rote - the themes encompass teamwork, camaraderie, bravery and even religion - but the discoveries are made through wordless action rather than rah-rah speeches. The film chooses not to tell us the obvious and finds growth and emotions within the characters and their situations.

The final shootout is less spectacular than Milkway aficionados are likely used to, but it possesses realistic staging and a positive spirit that is ultimately easy to appreciate. Law Wing-Cheong balances his elements confidently, mixing in ironic humor, smart character details, and recognizable human emotions into his cop-and-criminal saga. This is a lesser Milkyway crime film, but a more-than-adequate successor to the award-winning original that seems right at home among the company's other genre efforts. To many, Milkyway Image is known for more than just genre; their brand means quality too, and Comrades in Arms earns its inclusion in the Milkyway filmography. (Kozo 2009)



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
Find this at YesAsia

image credit: Universe Films Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen