Shiu Hung Hui
Wai Leung Hung
Wai Kin Lam
Ching Wan Lau
Ching Ting Law
South Kei Lee
Yan Tin So
Wan Woo Wong
Man Shing Yau
Tin Hung Yee
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Running Out of Time (1999)
18th Aug 05
A man who is given four weeks to live vows to avenge his father.
Sometimes you just have to sit back and quit trying to figure out where the hell a film is going to take you. Sure, we live in a time when plot conventions and clichés are as easy to spot as a MacDonalds Happy Meal at a Hong Kong noodle bar and although the feeling is sometimes comforting, you’ll find there’s nothing more rewarding than indulging in a flick that leads you blindly through a complex maze of uncertainty.
Cheung is dying from cancer. He has been given four weeks to live and decides to use his time the way he sees fit – to play a frantic, dangerous game of cat and mouse with the police department and in particular its best officer, Inspector Ho, whilst his ultimate objective is to take revenge on a Hong Kong organised crime syndicate.
What follows is a game where our ultra-cool cop hero eventually discovers that Cheung is dying and therefore has nothing to lose, thereby upping the danger stakes for Ho. It transpires that Cheung’s objective is to avenge his father at the hands of a crime lord and that his tactic involves elaborately planned manipulation of both Ho and the crime gang. Cheung is the puppeteer, while Ho and the gangsters are the puppets. And the puppet show? It doesn’t disappoint.
Plot-wise, Running out of Time is quite dense. There seems little sense of providing a blow-by-blow map to all the twists and turns this film has to offer and, besides, it would simply ruin your enjoyment of it should you wish to give it a look. And give it a look you definitely should.
Stylish without being flashy, Johnny To’s film is a solid, well-cast film combining elements of drama, action and thriller, which sees our main actors pitched as a perfect pairing playing consummate professionals with respect for one another. Their relationship is somewhat similar to the all-time heavyweight pairing of de Niro and Pacino in Michael Mann’s Heat and while Mann’s offering may display more of a star-polished sheen, Running out of Time is a less assuming (and less spectacular) film which can rely on its strong script, performances and tight, economic direction.
Though mostly serious (and sometimes genuinely sad) in tone, this Hong Kong film doesn’t keep a straight face all the time. The humour is conveyed mostly via the character of Inspector Wong who although Ho’s senior, displays an amusing line in inept control of situations. He’s a white-collared coward whose main interest does not lie in the dangerous world of apprehending criminals, but promotion. In what is perhaps the film’s most amusing turn, tablets prescribed only to cancer sufferers are found by the cops at a scene where Ho and Cheung had an altercation. Ho lets his boss believe that they’re his, and that he’s terminally ill just so he’ll stop giving him a hard time. Any subsequent scenes involving Ho and Wong take on a whole new comic undertone which lends a welcome lightness to this crime thriller.
This is what Running out of Time does so well, mixing up the different dramatic elements while never forgetting exactly what it is – a tough crime thriller. It’s shorter on action than what most audiences may expect but the strong concept and script by French cine-enthusiast team Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud conjures enough excitement to keep most lovers of Asian crime cinema hooked.
Worth seeing for the two main performances alone.
Versions Released in the UK on the Tai Seng round about now.
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