Time And Tide (Shun liu ni liu)

Hong Kong (2000) Dir. Tsui Hark

If there is a problem that has plagued mankind since time immemorial it is the simple human virtue of accepting responsibility for our actions. In the current era of the blame culture in which everyone is out for themselves and would happily see even members of their own families take the fall instead of them, this must seem like an alien concept to a lot of people.

Then again the consequences of taking responsibility doesn’t always pay off either so maybe keeping ones mouth shut is he better option. The spiralling catalogue of events incurred by two men trying to do the right is the subject matter of this violent thriller from the legendary Tsui Hark. If only they kept it in their trousers.

21 year-old Tyler Yim (Nicholas Tse) is a bartender enjoying his uncomplicated life until he performs the remarkable trick of bedding and subsequently impregnating lesbian police offer Ah Jo (Cathy Tsui) following a night on the tiles. Deciding to man up, Tyler seeks to financially support Ah Jo, getting a job with a suspect bodyguard company run by Uncle Ji (Anthony Wong) for some quick money.

One job Tyler works on is protecting a wealthy businessman at his birthday bash at an expensive hotel, attended by the man’s pregnant daughter Ah Hui (Candy Lo) and her husband Jack (Wu Bai), a former mercenary. Together Jack and Tyler foil an assassination attempt but then Jack’s former comrades, known as the Angels arrive in Hong Kong and order Jack to carry out the hit himself or they’ll get Ah Hui.

Arguably better-known to western film fans for his fantasy driven wu xia classics and historical martial arts flicks, a modern day crime thriller from Tsui Hark seems like something of an anomaly. Yet, Hark is not only known for producing many similar films (A Better Tomorrow bears his name), his early output was also fraught with gritty social commentary, like his controversial Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind from 1980.

For Hark this film came at a crossroads in his life, having tried his in Hollywood with little success and returning to Hong Kong a little jaded and despondent to find a country that was embracing change having recently been freed from British rule in his absence. Tyler and Jack are in some ways reflected of Hark’s mood, two men forced by circumstance to look forward in a different direction to the one they are used to.

Based in South America, the Angels are the foreign villains of the piece, maybe a dig by Hark at Hollywood or even at us Brits, but there is little xenophobia or nationalistic bias here – the Angles are multi-lingual and multi-ethnic, concerned only with their fortunes and not to start an international incident.

The Angels feel betrayed by Jack wanting to settle down and become a family man and the mission to take out his father-in-law was a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone. Ironically the Angels hire Uncle Ji’s group to protect their ailing boss (injured by Jack) with a huge case of money waiting as payment, having blackmailed Jack to do the hit for them.

Jack instead kills his former boss and after a thrilling and costly game of cat and mouse inside and outside a hotel complex escapes with the money. The remaining Angels are now hell bent on vengeance and Jack has to be one-step ahead to keep Ah Nui safe at all costs. Stuck in the middle of this is Tyler, suspected by Uncle Ji of being a mole because of his friendship with Jack, but is given a chance to redeem himself by Uncle Ji to recover the money.

With this all now established in the first half of the film – albeit in a very haphazard and dizzying manner, that takes in fast cut edits and random situation jumping to cause confusion as to whose storyline we are following, jumping from Tyler in Hong Kong to Jack and the Angels in South American on a whim – Hark devotes the second half exclusively to the action.

If Hark, 50 at the time of this film’s release was considered a relic from yesteryear, Time And Tide proves that an old dog can be taught new tricks and hang the current movers and shakers. The original cut of this film was three hours long but Hark found it slow and boring so he reduced it to a much swifter 108 minutes which pays dividends. The opening scene alone is a frenetic patchwork of urgency and exposition that many directors wish they could pull off.

Some of Hark’s old wire fu habits prove hard to shake as recipients of a kick or punch tend to fly about a bit too much but this is gradually reined in as things progress. CGI technology is employed to the full, taken the viewer deep inside the recoil system of a gun as a bullet is fired, to a close-up look at an the reaction of an eyeball to being sprayed directly with a fire extinguisher.    

This is just a small example of the contemporary, knife-edge violence that shows Hark can push boundaries. The tension and heart stopping dread of the climactic shootout in a locked down train station is heightened by the simple addendum of An Hui going into labour as the bullets fly. It may just be a film but it takes a fearless mind to concoct such a juxtaposition – a new arrival to replace those gone via a bloody departure.

As a fast paced, hard-hitting Hong Kong thriller Time And Tide will tick all the boxes for anyone looking for a violent adrenaline rush with a griping story driving it. The more discerning film fan who appreciates artistic flair and allegorical storytelling with their bloodshed are also well catered for. A sublime and reinvigorating turning point for Hark who had no reason to look back since.