Over the past five
years, Tsui Hark has fallen from renowned HK Cinema
master to lap dog of Jean-Claude Van Damme. His move
to Hollywood was understandable, and probably would
have been much more palatable had the resulting films
been in any way inspired. Alas, that simply wasn't
the case. Both Double Team and Knock Off
had flashes of Tsui's creativity and gonzo imagination,
but both were also mired in the limitations of the
colorless US action genre. And both films had an incredibly
terrible leading man.
Thankfully, those days
seem to be over. Tsui's first trick upon his return
to Hong Kong is this decidedly bizarre mixture of
gangster action, existential angst, and various pieces
of his celebrated filmography. Like most of Tsui Hark's
best films, Time and Tide possesses an admirable
energy and verve. The pacing can be breathless and
exhilarating, and the action entertainingly over the
top. However, like most of Tsui Hark's worst films,
the plot can also require leaps of logic that would
tax even the most loose cinematic reader out there.
Gen-X Cop Nicholas
Tse stars as Tyler, a punk kid who works for Anthony
Wong's shady bodyguard firm. Tyler was originally
a bartender, but a one-night stand with a lesbian
cop (model Cathy Tsui) leaves her pregnant and him
feeling responsible. Despite her desire to stay away
from him, Tyler throws himself into his new job to
make the requisite cash to provide for her. And then...stuff
What that stuff is can
be difficult to describe. Tyler's problems are existential
youth issues that permeate your typical Goo Wat
Jai flick, but Tsui Hark kicks it up a notch by
adding intermittent existential voice-over which take
us into Tyler's mind. His issues may seem identifiable,
but Tyler spends just as much time contemplating postcards
of paradise, or debating God's intentions in creating
this world. All that existential mumbo-jumbo could
imply a greater universality to Tyler's struggle.
He, like all man, is merely trying to get by while
simultaneously discovering his place and ultimate
destinyand the forces which will drive him there.
That could be the universal message that Tsui Hark
wants to impart. Or, it could just be randomly scripted
existential mumbo-jumbo that purports to mean something
when it actually means absolutely nothing at all.
You be the judge.
Then things get really
weird. Tyler befriends kick-ass hitman Jack (Wu Bai),
who also has a pregnant wife (Candy Lo). The two find
themselves at odds in the beginning, but their paths
become inexorably entwined when both must fight evil
South American bad guys who speak in really terrible
dubbed English. Jack used to work with them, but now
he wants out and must battle his former comrades over
his newfound freedom. Tyler gets involved because
he needs to recover the money that Jack stole from
the evil South American bad guys. If he does so, he'll
be able to save face, do the right thing (i.e. return
the money to the rightful owners), and maybe even
earn the respect of the mother of his child.
Both men have similar things
at stake (pregnant wives), and both must dig within
themselves to find the strength to move forward and
affect the desired change in their lives. That's what
the conflicts in Time and Tide are about: the
necessary will to survive in the urban jungle represented
by Hong Kong. Tsui Hark is trying to show us the human
spirit at work in these dangerously chaotic times.
Or, he could just be looking for an excuse to create
a forty-five minute action ending which blends acrobatic
heroic bloodshed with finely orchestrated chaos. Again,
you be the judge.
With all of the above
at work, it's expected that the viewer be totally
lost and possibly alienated by the second hour. What
it all means is probably beyond the comprehension
of most moviegoers, and even those who make it their
business to understand film might be thrown off. As
much as Tsui tells us what's going on, he doesn't
really connect all the pieces to a greater whole.
Time and Tide exists on a strange plane of
filmmaking, where the bits and pieces seem to be reaching
for something which is never truly defined. Is it
all about humanity? Or is it just cathartic kick-ass
action and loosely connected interludes? Who the hell
But at least the kick-ass
action and loosely connected interludes seem to work
- and work well. The action is one thing: a combination
of Matrix-like camera tricks and entertaining
gunplay that's cartoony, yet visceral and entertaining.
The loosely connected interludes are another: despite
their questionable connection to the overall film,
the pieces can sometimes be emotional and even telling.
Tsui Hark manages to find recognizable pieces of humanity
in his genre mishmash, and it's practically enough
to redeem the entire film.
Credit should be given to
the casting, which works remarkably well. Nicholas
Tse's popstar status belies his considerable screen
presence and acting ability. Despite his punkish attitude,
he projects believable emotion and surprising vulnerability.
Relative newcomer Candy Lo turns in a remarkably affecting
performance, and Taiwan rocker Wu Bai is effective
as the film's most pivotal character. His casting
is probably the best move Tsui Hark made, as he eschewed
the usual HK personalities for someone who brings
few preconceptions to the role. Wu is not a pretty
boy, and thus he seems very fitting for the frankly
outlandish role of Jack.
Time and Tide works
best at its most offhand moments, such as when Tyler,
Jack and his wife engage in an impromptu singalong
in Tyler's car. Scenes like those recall the more
strangely beguiling moments of Tsui Hark's work. And,
it's those scenes which seem to make his otherwise
patchwork mixtures of genre, character and meaning
into something which transcends mere classifications
of good or bad. Time and Tide is ultimately
a lot more opaque than most of Tsui Hark's earlier
works, but if you let the film take you along for
its ride, you might be able to extract something worthwhileand
even strangely compellingfrom it. (Kozo 2001/2002)