Time and Tide

Tsui Hark was, during the late '80s/early '90s, one of the best, and certainly the kookiest, of Hong Kong's talented crop of action directors. As the HK film industry peaked, with American interest in the colony's cinema combining with the impending Chinese takeover, many of the biggest names fled to Hollywood to establish new careers, Tsui among them.

Tsui's first assignment was a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Well, why not? His compatriot John Woo got his start in the States with a Van Damme movie, then moved on to the nominally classier Broken Arrow, Face/Off, etc. Unfortunately for Tsui, all he was given for his labors was another Van Damme movie. So he did the wise thing and beat a hasty retreat back to Hong Kong, where – surprise! – the Chinese takeover hadn't stifled the local film industry at all.

One thing did happen to Hong Kong while Tsui was away, however, and that was the critical deification of art film director Wong Kar Wai. Suddenly the style of Tsui's earlier HK work, with its golden hues, clean master shots, and light comedy, was outdated. To save face, he filmed Time and Tide like a Wong Kar Wai movie: jerky camera, cool blue lighting, unusual screen compositions, occasional bouts of nonlinearity, and a general post-modernist seriousness. It's flashy, but it's not Tsui's native style, and it shows.

Thankfully, the director hasn't lost his creativity when staging fight scenes, and the many gun battles in Time and Tide reveal his trademark whimsy-tinged chaos. But the style kills some of the fun, and the action isn't nearly as pulse-pounding as Tsui's earlier period films (the Once Upon a Time in China series, among others). The problem may be with the sound mix: perhaps it was just the theatre I saw it in, but the audio seemed oddly muted during several manic shootouts that should have been blisteringly loud. If Time and Tide comes to your local art house cinema, gently ask your projectionist beforehand to crank up the volume, and you may be more properly "blown away."

There's no real reason to go into the plot, which involves a hitman deserting his compadres, a low-rent thug with a phony gun who befriends him, several pregnant women, and of course a billion bullets. You're here to see the action, and you get plenty of it.