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Tactical Unit: Comrades in Arms
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by Jay Seaver

"Cops & robbers & promotions."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: The popular "PTU" series returned to Hong Kong cinemas this January after an installment or two went direct to video. Even for folks like myself who have not seen the original or the other sequels will likely find it enjoyably familiar, both for its cast of Milky Way regulars and crisply told police story.

We're filled in quickly as the film begins: Sam (Simon Yam) and May (Maggie Siu) each lead a team of four uniformed officers in Hong Kong, and there isn't a whole lot of love lost between the two teams: May started out as Sam's subordinate, but the upcoming duty roster has her promoted over him, with Sam's team grumbling that Inspector Ho (Wong Chi-yin) is showing favoritism toward May and her obnoxious second-in-command Roy. Another former team-mate, "Fat Tong" (Lam Suet), has been demoted to driver and is becoming bitter and lazy in that role. With just a couple days to go before starting their new assignments, the teams are dispatched to track down a group of armored-car robbers who have headed into the woods and mountains surrounding the city.

Though the original Police Tactical Unit premiered in 2003, the four sequels have all come out within the last couple years, at a rapid-enough clip that Yam, Siu, and Lam are likely as comfortable in their roles and with each other as the cast of a TV series that has settled into its groove. Writers Yau Nai-hoi and Au Kin-yee toss close to a dozen cop characters at the audience, but trust the cast to make their characters' personalities memorable without having designated subplots that have their own character-revealing resolutions. This is mostly a day in the life story, with that day including a fair amount of action.

As an action movie, Brothers in Arms works well enough once the action starts. Director Law Wing-cheong (taking over from Johnnie To) does nifty things with the camera, and cranks the tension up nicely within the sequences. Law and the writers take good advantage of the network of tunnels in the area. The trouble is that getting to the action sequences is sometimes not done well. It's fine that much of the time the PTU seems to wind up in the soup because of their own bad judgment, but it makes the later scenes where they are suddenly focused and the bad guys' equals look a little unlikely. Plus, after spending a fair amount of time establishing that the wooded mountains are large enough to get lost in an separate the teams, the last act involves a lot of groups just happening to converge on the same location.

That doesn't undo the good work by the cast, though. Simon Yam and Maggie Siu are excellent as mirror images of each other, both hard-headed and driven, unwilling to give an inch. We're inclined to Give Yam's Sam a little more sympathy than Liu's May, because they seem closer to being lovable outcasts than the other team, but Yam makes Sam very hard to love unconditionally. I'm curious how I would react to the characters' evolution in the rest of the series. Lam Suet is, as often, a delight to watch, serving as the movie's laid-back (and kind of disreputable) comic relief much of the time while still being able to make us believe when Tong turns clever.

"Comrades in Arms" is both part of a series that has much of its original team intact and a product of the well-oiled Milky Way machine, so when it gets down to business, it manages to do things right. It's a little bit lazy getting those pieces together at times, but it's a quality snapshot of the struggles of being this sort of cop, both in the field and in politics.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19112&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/21/09 17:43:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Wing-cheong Law

Written by
  Nai-Hoi Yau
  Kin-Yee Au

Cast
  Simon Yam
  Maggie Siu
  Lam Suet



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