It’s always great when a boutique studio like Arrow or Criterion releases a set of films in the same series as one package deal. It’s beneficial to the fans of said series to have it in one set as opposed to having them split into two (or more) different releases. And while I wasn’t familiar with the Running out of Time films before this recent release, I still decided to check them out since my wife and I are both fans of Andy Lau’s work. Plus, I was curious to see if I could find myself appreciating something else directed by Johnnie To after not being too impressed with his 2004 film Throw Down. Granted, the Running out of Time films are vastly different from Throw Down, but I am always up for the challenge of trying different films from directors whose work I may not connect with at first blush.
The Running out of Time films were both directed by To, but Running out of Time 2 had the assistance of Wing-Cheong Law, whom To directed in several films before and after this series. Both films are full of great stunt work and choreography, but the second film also seems like there were several creative differences that weren’t resolved, and what results is a hodgepodge of odd directorial decisions.
The first Running out of Time focuses on a cancer-ridden criminal named Cheung Wah (Andy Lau), who is seeking revenge on Hong Kong’s organized crime Syndicates. He doesn’t have that long to live, and he wants to make his final days count. Enter Inspector Ho Sheung-Sang (Lau Ching Wan), a hostage negotiator whose recent case was almost bungled by Chief Inspector Wong kai-fat (Shiu Hung Hui). Cheung is soon fascinated by Inspector Ho and decides the best way to get connected with him is to stage his own robbery of a finance company. Cheung proposes that he and Ho play a 72-hour game, and then makes his escape from the scene of the crime. What follows is a game of cat and mouse that involves multiple parties and one very precious diamond.
Andy Lau and Lau Ching Wan are both fantastic together, and the web of intrigue consistently spins as the story progresses. There are some terrific and tense moments that make the first Running out of Time on par with some of the great detective films to come out of America. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of Infernal Affairs, but it does stand well on its own ground. To blends a lot of elements here to make this 90-minute adventure engaging, humorous, and well-choreographed. Shiu is especially funny as the bumbling chief inspector. This is a must for fans of good crime dramas and for those who want to expand their cinema palate to include films from other countries.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Running out of Time 2. It’s one of those instances where the first film ended perfectly, and the sequel just felt like an effortless cash grab. Lau Ching Wan returns as Inspector Ho, as does Shiu Hung Hui as Chief Inspector Wong kai-fat and a few others from the first film. While Lau and Shiu are still good in their respective performances, the sequel immediately feels off by the presence of a CGI eagle that flies in front of the screen. It’s as if the film was given a cheaper, TV-movie-type budget, and To and co-director Law Wing Cheong couldn’t determine which route to take the film.
This case involves a magician (Ekin Cheng), who is also a thief and has a plan to extort a successful businesswoman. Of course, once he becomes familiar with Ho, he also decides to lead him on a chase.
The directing in Running out of Time 2 vastly pales in comparison to its predecessor. It was during this time when action movies in America featured a lot of odd close-ups and quick cuts. To and Law must have thought that’s what audiences would appreciate and they decided to replicate it. It results in a messy effort, one that is made worse by the fact that the storyline surrounding it is also nowhere near as engaging. Cheng has somewhat of a charm as the nameless thief, and there’s an interesting mental game he plays with Chief Inspector Wong. But beyond that, there’s no point to the story, and fans of the first will be left with a sour taste afterward.
Arrow Video has done a terrific job with restoring both Running out of Time films in a new 2K scan. Some of the imagery is still a little grainy, especially in the first film. The second film has a better visual presentation, looking almost like it’s a new release. The Blu-ray has a reversible sleeve in which one side is commissioned artwork by artist Lucas Peverill and the other is a montage of the two original movie posters and an essay by David West that focuses on the state of Hong Kong cinema at the time of the first Running out of Time‘s release.
Both discs have an array of special features, most of which are archival from previously-released versions. The new features that come with both films are Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng providing commentary tracks. The archival features include interviews with To and some of the cast members from both films; a making-of documentary about Running out of Time 2; a documentary called Hong Kong Stories, which focuses on Hong Kong cinema mythology; trailers for both films; and image galleries for both films.
The first Running out of Time is a blast and one great way to expand your knowledge of Hong Kong cinema. The second film doesn’t hold a candle to it. But this new Arrow set is great for those who like both films and its reformatting and inclusion of all the special features is solidly handled.
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