Review for RUNNING OUT OF TIME 1 & 2
I got mixed up again. When Eureka Films solicited Johnnie To’s Running Out of Time duology on Blu-ray, I eagerly requested the check discs, thinking that I would finally get the chance to see a Johnnie To movie that I last watched on VHS, roughly recorded from a TV broadcast 20-odd years ago. I’ve since backed those VHS tapes to DVD-R, but the idea of watching that film now in HD quality certainly appealed. Only that film turned out to be Fulltime Killer (still to get a BD release anywhere), and not Running Out of Time. It turns out that I actually reviewed the latter film on Tai Seng’s DVD release back in 2005. But for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen the sequel.
Introduction: Running Out of Time
Inspector Ho is surprised that his presence is specifically requested during a tense hostage situation. He finds Cheung holding a finance company manager at gunpoint with explosives set around the building. All Cheung wants is to play a game with the Inspector for 72 hours, and Ho had better learn the rules fast, or people will start dying, starting with the hapless hostage. But there is more to this than meets the eye, Cheung only has four weeks to live, has nothing to lose, and the prize to this particular game is more than just humiliating a cop who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Disc: Running Out of Time
Running Out of Time gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Cantonese and Mandarin, plus PCM 1.0 Mono English, with English subtitle tracks for both Chinese audio tracks, and a third subtitle stream as a signs only track. It’s a great transfer as I’ve come to expect from Eureka’s discs. The image is clear and sharp, with excellent detail, and there is a nice, filmic layer of grain just as there should be. The action comes across well, although the film does make use of that slow-mo, sped-up fast editing that so annoyed me when Lee Tamahori used it in Die Another Day in 2002; although it isn’t quite as annoying when Johnnie To uses it in this 1999 film. The audio is fine, there is a bit of surround to proceedings, but the overall experience is still pretty front-focused. There is a nice bit of sound design to the film. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
Extras: Running Out of Time
The disc boots to a static menu and you’ll find the following extras on the disc.
You get commentaries from Frank Djeng, and the one from the old Tai Seng DVD with screenwriters Julien Carbon & Laurent Courtiad.
Julien Carbon & Laurent Courtiad  (21:57)
Julien Carbon & Laurent Courtiad  (37:09)
Johnnie To (11:43)
Lau Chin-Wan (25:19)
Raymond Wong (27:24)
The Directors’ Overview of Carbon & Courtiad (8:24)
Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
Conclusion: Running Out of Time
My opinion has changed since I first saw Running Out of Time, although that first viewing was tainted by the unfair expectations I had for the film. At the time, I thought that it would be a hard-hitting and uncompromising action thriller, when the film is actually anything but. Now that I know what the film is like, an action thriller with more of a comedic twist to it, I appreciate it and enjoy it a whole lot more. It’s an entertaining, and fast paced ride from beginning to end, and I can’t help but be left with a smile on my face as the end credits roll.
The premise of Running Out Of Time coupled with its trailer both promise much. The idea of a man who is dying, who has nothing left to lose, pitting himself up against a worn and experienced cop tends to give the idea of a gritty, hard bitten thriller, a no holds barred game of cat and mouse where innocent bystanders pay the price. However, Running Out Of Time is nothing like this, despite the vertigo inducing opening scene with Cheung standing at the edge of a skyscraper rooftop. It’s no bad thing though, as it really does entertain over its 90 minute running time.
We are given to see Cheung as a man with nothing left to lose, willing to do anything, and the way the character is initially introduced, there is an ambiguity to his motives. However that ambiguity is quickly erased, as Andy Lau plays him completely sympathetically. Also, while the set up of the story promises a tense game of wits, a lot of time is devoted to the internal politics in the police force, most of it played for laughs, and especially the relationship between Ho and his former superior Inspector Wong. This light-hearted feel permeates the film and the relationship that develops between the two antagonists, Ho and Cheung.
The film’s relative lack of tension isn’t detrimental, and the humour doesn’t subsume the greater story. Lau Ching-Wan as Ho and Andy Lau as Cheung are a delight to watch on screen together, and their dynamic is both adversarial and friendly. Their initial meeting is tense and ominous, but the relationship quickly develops into one of rivalry and one-upmanship. There are enjoyable character moments in the film, and the spectre of Cheung’s eventual demise doesn’t let the film descend towards the maudlin. The strength of the film is in its plot though. Cheung has planned revenge against a gangster who wronged him and it involves an intricate heist, a heist in which Ho will play an integral if unwilling part. The way the plan unfolds, and the twists and turns the narrative takes are a delight to watch.
Now that I know the film is more of a comedy action thriller than something truly hard-boiled, I just love the experience, and I can appreciate the way it finds a few moments of genuine warmth and heart amongst its lively antics. Given how many issues I had with that old Tai Seng DVD check disc, I can only appreciate this Blu-ray presentation even more.
Introduction: Running Out of Time 2
What was it that John McClane said in Die Hard 2? “How can the same s*** happen to the same guy twice?” Inspector Ho has another maniac to deal with, this time a ‘magician’ who is targeting an insurance company by stealing valuable items that they have insured. With a lucrative merger on the cards, this company can’t afford to have its reputation tarnished, and it becomes a race against time, a cat and mouse game as Inspector Ho tries to bring this magician to justice. But once again, not everything is as it appears.
The Disc: Running Out of Time 2
The film is presented with a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, but this time all of the audio options are surround, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, Cantonese, Mandarin with subtitles and signs. The image is clear and sharp, properly filmic, although with a number of hazy scenes, especially in the beginning, it doesn’t make the most of the HD format. And there is a rather dodgy CGI eagle flitting in and out of proceedings. The audio is fine, mostly front-focussed, with the dialogue clear, if not exactly sharp, and with the surround kicking into life in the occasional action scene. The main theme from the first film is recycled here, sometimes to the point of tedium, but the subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
Extras: Running Out of Time 2
The disc boots to a static menu. On the disc you’ll find the following extras.
Audio commentary from Frank Djeng
The Making Of Running Out Of Time 2 (5:$6)
Hong Kong Stories (49:45)
Theatrical Trailer (2:41)
Conclusion: Running Out of Time 2
Running Out of Time 2 is a sequel in the sense of the word that I learned back in the seventies and eighties as a child. Take a decent or even superlative movie, and for the second time out, remake it, sucking all that was original out of the film, churning out something that is lacklustre and disappointing in comparison. I found Running Out of Time 2 so tiresome that it actually took me 3 hours to watch a 90 minute film for falling asleep, and I’m not altogether bothered by the fact that I can’t recall the conclusion all that clearly.
It really is more of the same, with a magician this time going around committing crimes in the name of justice, and this time an insurance company falling victim. The whole “Running Out of Time” premise is effectively ditched, as while Cheng may have been facing a death sentence in the original, the magician is under no such time constraints. With that goes a whole lot of heart and sympathy for the character, and with this magician grinning like Tom Cruise through the film, it’s even harder to have any empathy for him or his cause.
The film tries to introduce a romantic element for Ho in the form of the boss of the insurance company, but the switch from antagonistic to sympathetic relationship is too abrupt and artificial to be believable. The film also makes a point of once again visiting the antagonistic relationship between Ho and his immediate superior Wong which in the first film made for much of the film’s humour. Yet it doesn’t work in the sequel. It feels forced, and I didn’t laugh once, whereas the first film was really quite funny.
Oh, and Running Out of Time 2 has the dumbest chase sequence ever committed to celluloid. But then again, I wasn’t impressed with the original Running Out of Time when I first saw it, and it has since grown on me. Ask me again in 15 years... maybe Running Out of Time 2 will have grown on me too.
I’ve got movie boxsets in my collection, where I’ve had to put up with disappointments to enjoy what I really wanted, Robocop 3 along with the first two movies, Star Trek: Nemesis alongside the other 9 classic Trek movies, and I tend to think of them as the price of admission to what’s really good about my purchase. Here, Running Out of Time 2 is the price of admission to the original Running Out of Time, a lacklustre sequel to a superlative original.