Running Out of Time 1 (1999) and Running Out of Time 2 (2001)
Director: Johnnie To / Johnnie To & Law Wing-Cheong
Cast: Andy Lau & Lau Ching-wan / Lau Ching-wan & Ekin Cheng
Format: Blu-ray (2 discs)
Language: Cantonese (with optional English subtitles)
Autonomy: 190 minutes
Release date: August 1, 2022
Jamie Havlin has his say on two cat-and-mouse thrillers directed by multi-award-winning Hong Kong director Johnnie To.
Cheung Wah (Andy Lau) is terminally ill and his doctor gives him four weeks to live. “But if you start bleeding from the inside, you could die at any time.”
He calmly takes the news, pulls out two large wads of rolled up bills, hands them to the doctor and asks for “four weeks worth of painkillers”.
How does he plan to spend his time before it runs out? In a word – unconventional. He plans to avenge his father’s death by stealing an extremely expensive blue diamond from a Triad gang led by a ruthless con artist known as Baldy, who scammed his father. He also wants to play games with the Hong Kong police, specifically Inspector Ho Sheung Sang (Lau Ching-wan). And by games, I don’t mean games like tennis or darts. He wants to involve Ho in his elaborate and daring plan.
We first meet Ho in his role as a negotiator who must persuade two masked gunmen to free a group of hostages during a bank raid. The incident ends with a clever twist, and one that shows Ho is an exceptionally gifted policeman – unlike his superior in the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, Inspector Wong (Hui Siu-Hung), who is spineless and clumsy.
The next time Ho is sent on a mission to resolve a hostage crisis, it’s Cheung Wah he must face, when he threatens to detonate a small bomb on top of a high-rise commercial building. . Ho thinks it’s a fake but Wong isn’t so sure. Again, there’s an unexpected twist with Cheung plunging into a fan chute to escape.
As in Michael Mann’s Heat or Hong Kong films like John Woo’s The Killer or Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, the cop and the criminal become more and more respectful of each other’s talents.
It’s a film with complex plots, but what makes it a triumph is the chemistry between the two protagonists. Often seen as a bit of a lightweight actor at this point, due to his good looks and wildly successful career in Cantopop, Andy Lau delivers a fine performance and deserved his first Best Actor gong at the 19th Hong Kong Film Awards. The ever-reliable Lau Ching-Wan is almost as good.
Also worth mentioning is Yoyo Mung’s relatively brief turn as the girl Cheung meets in a minibus. The attraction between the two is particularly poignant given Cheung’s diagnosis, which obviously ruled him out of returning for the sequel.
Co-directed by Johnnie To and Law Wing-cheung, Running Out Of Time 2 sees Lau Ching-wan reprise his role as Ho, with Hui Siu-Hung’s Wong now assistant commissioner – and significantly more buffoonish than before.
Lam Suet, previously one of Baldy’s henchmen, also returns but in a different role: a stressed out cop named Ken Chan, who has a gambling addiction and is heavily in debt to some loan sharks.
A dizzying first sequence where a young man (Ekin Cheng) tossed a coin toss with Ken on the edge of a skyscraper’s roof certainly pissed me off and made me hope it could be as entertaining than the original but, sadly, it wasn’t to be.
Though it’s often shot imaginatively, albeit with less than impressive CGI, the sequel sticks too closely to the original’s formula. This time around, Andy Lau’s Cheung is replaced by another super-smart, stylish, and elusive criminal who wants to play games with Inspector Ho. Ekin Cheng’s unnamed character also looks like a figure of speech David Copperfield but, despite his skill at creating grand illusions and his almost uncanny ability to vanish into thin air, the film lacks the magic of its predecessor.
Both films are released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK from brand new 2K restorations and special features include a limited edition slipcase with new artwork by Grégory Sacré (Gokaiju); an audio commentary on Running Out of Time by screenwriters Laurent Cortiaud and Julien Carbon, moderated by Stefan Hammond; archival interviews; The Directors’ Overview of Carbon and Courtiaud – archival featurette; and Hong Kong Stories, a 2003 52-minute documentary by director Yves Montmayeur on the mythology of Hong Kong cinema and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on both films.
To know more about the version, click on here.
All the words of Jamie Havlin. Jamie has written a few short films that have screened on UK TV and international festivals, and is a regular contributor to the glam rock fanzine Wired Up! More of Jamie’s writings can be found in the archives of its author Louder Than War.