Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time and Tide (2000, Hong Kong)

Billy Wilder once said something to the effect that a film should "Never tell something that the viewer can put together like two plus two." Tsui Hark, the modern Hong Kong equivalent of Roger Corman, obviously thinks that the average viewer must know the square root of pi, for in Time and Tide, his first Hong Kong film after his semi-disappointing and uninteresting Hollywood productions Double Team (1997) and Knock Off (1998), he reveals little of the plot to the viewer. Time and Tide is indeed either the most over-plotted or under-plotted movie he has made to date, but in either case, it is one hell of a narrative fuck-up.
That said, it also includes some of the best, most breathtaking action sequences ever made. Both relentless and ruthless in its visual excess Time and Tide veers between being brilliant and unbelievably annoying. Whenever the narrative threads kick in, they are too obtuse or too quick to either make much sense or completely involve the viewer. On the other hand, whenever the action explodes, it does so like a truck full of nitro-glycerine. Brilliant cinematography, sharp editing, unbelievable stunts are the saving grace of the film, but then, that is all the film is made of. A major shoot out in Hong Kong tenements has men both good and bad rappelling down and along the sides of the buildings, a shoot out in a darkened train station has them sliding along the floor propelled by the force of their guns, a man survives a major explosion by shutting himself in a refrigerator and later the same man helps a woman give birth as she shoots at bad guys over his shoulders. Memorable scenes one and all, done with wit and style and acted in utmost seriousness by the likeable actors, but somewhere the along the way one wishes Tsui Hark thought that most people cannot add one plus one. 
Still, as un-understandable as the plot may be, somewhere in this whirlwind of action, two minimal narratives do slowly intertwine, both mere excuses for the film's excellent visual pyrotechnics. The first hero to be introduced is Tyler (Nicholas Tse), a bartender who one drunken night impregnates a lesbian policewoman (Cathy Tsui). Oddly responsible for a 21 (or so) year old Gen X-er, he gets a job in an unlicensed protection agency so as to earn money for the mother-to-be, all the while dreaming of one day leaving for some south sea paradise. Eventually the firm he is working for gets hired to protect a Hong Kong drug lord, and he meets up with Jack, a tired and disillusioned man. Jack's pregnant wife (Candy Lo) is one of the drug king's daughters, and the two love each other deeply. But then Jack's past catches up with him when another rival gang, the one he once belonged to, arrives in town and gives him the assignment of erasing his father-in-law. At this point, Jack and Tyler's budding friendship gets nipped at the bud as they find themselves ever more on opposing sides of an explosive situation gone out of control. 
A plot worthy of a soap opera, it is also obviously of no real importance to Tsui, and is skated over so as to simply provide the barest structure from which to display his visual flare and talent for action sequences. A good film? Hardly. An amazing film? Completely. But he has done betterand, one hopes, will do better again one day.

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