TripAdvisor - Hong Kong
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When an American thinks of contemporary Hong Kong action cinema, the images that come to
mind usually involve something with which producer/director Tsui Hark was involved. John Woo may be the more famous filmmaker on this
side of the Pacific, but Woos breakthroughs, A Better Tomorrow
and The Killer stem from Tsuis Film Workshop Company. It also produced Hong Kongs three most
famous series of the late 80s-early 90s Chinese Ghost Story, Swordsman,
and Once Upon a Time in China
films. Although in the Chinese Ghost Story and Swordsman series, Tsuis name overshadowed
Ching Siu-Tungs (who actually directed them with much interference or collaboration
from Tsui depending on how you want to look at it), Tsui has always been the weakest
filmmaker among his colleagues, Woo and Ching. Tsui
is the Brian DePalma or Tim Burton of Hong Kong cinema, great at creating bravura set
pieces or camera moves, but very poor at reining in this thing called plot. That is why Tsuis Peking Opera Blues--early enough in his career
that he didnt dispense with storytelling to get to the next action scene--will
always be his best movie. With that lone
exception, cohesion of narrative and tone is not something to look for in a Tsui Hark
Tsuis influence on Hong Kong cinema has been so great that his progeny often mirror his flaws except to even greater degrees. Tsuis latest film, Time and Tide, could have come from one of them but for the even-more-exceptional-than-usual execution of its action sequences, and really, that is all that makes the film worth seeing. Extraordinary editing, choreography, and use of space barrage the senses with hyperkinetic action or work to permeate suspense in the calm before the storm. Everything else in the movie is just window dressing. Tsui uses sped-up motion, split screen, jump cuts; he rams the cameras POV down the barrel of a targeting scope to focus on the eye at the other end; he puts the camera inside a working dryer and shows whats going on through the dryer window while laundry spins through the air. Two men play table tennis as a gun battle suddenly erupts and just as quickly ends leaving the sole sound of a lonely ping pong ball dribbling to a stop. Two men hanging from cables run down the side of a building firing machine guns at each other like Barishnikovs possessed by the spirit of Charlton Heston.
Tsui Harks photograph should be framed next to the definition of over-the-top. Even outside the action sequences, he makes everything extreme. An alcohol-imbibing contest turns into a vomiting competition. Before a car can pick up a man on the side of the road, Tsui has to make sure the car hits a puddle of water to completely soak him. He, of course, is too cool to take notice. Delivering a woman to the airport, a man drives in reverse at high speed against traffic for no good reason. After experiencing the Jean-Claude Van Damme rite-of-passage for Hong Kong directors who come to Hollywood, Tsui has returned home where he has total freedom to make his films as crazy as he likes.
The story, or what there is of it that makes any sense, concerns a 21-year old bartender, Tyler (Nicholas Tse) who one night accidentally impregnates an undercover lesbian cop. Tyler becomes a bodyguard to make extra money to help out the policewoman named Jo (Cathy Chui) even though she does not want anything from him. Working for a security firm run by the once-shady Mr. Ji (Anthony Wong), Tyler finds himself guarding the powerful triad boss, Hong, against an expected assassination attempt. During this assignment, Tyler encounters Hongs estranged daughter Hui (Candy Lo) and her husband, Jack (Wu Bai), who Hong has dismissed as riffraff for being a butcher from Taiwan. But is that really Jack, or could he actually be a former member of an elite group of Brazilian professional killers that would make the best Navy SEAL look like a Muppet Baby? Tyler and Jack become friends, but both run into trouble when Jacks former Brazilian colleagues turn up, threatening Jacks wife and unborn child unless he helps them in some murky plot.
Columbia Pictures is releasing Time and Tide probably with some hopes of garnering a measure of the success its sister company Sony Picture Classics gained from fellow Hong Kong import Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Crouching Tiger however benefited from its novelty to an U.S. audience despite being a fairly typical but moderately superior genre picture by Hong Kong standards. Tsui produced two better wuxia pictures, Swordsman II and Dragon Inn, that beat Crouching Tiger to the punch eight years earlier. They just didnt get any exposure in the States. Time and Tide should do better than whatever Hong Kong film follows it in the certain groundswell of U.S. distributors looking for the next big Hong Kong movie post-Crouching Tiger. At the same time, Time and Tide is certain not to attain anything close to Tigers success.
Time and Tide is just too much an exercise in empty style to reach an audience beyond action fans. The only poignant moment in the movie comes when Hui introduces Jack to her father, who then mocks him. Everything else in the film barely reaches even the level of cartoon. A pretentious discussion on the Biblical Genesis, Jos lesbianism, and a police force commanders support of Jacks vigilantism are just the necktie, scarf, and socks that emphasize there being no clothes underneath. Still, can this naked man run, jump, and shoot!
- George Wu