Timing is everything. When I first watched Hark Tsui's Shun Liu Ni Liu [Time and Tide] the Hong Kong movie business was struggling to keep its head above water. Not only that, I was very much into Japanese cinema and didn't really like the films coming out of Hong Kong. Time and Tide is one of the films that marked a major turnaround in my viewing habits, as Hong Kong now represents a significant amount of my monthly film diet. But what about Hark's film? Well, it still holds up, though it's not quite as spectacular as I remembered it to be.
Hark Tsui may be one of Hong Kong's biggest and brightest action directors, even he couldn't stay afloat during the late 90s. He relocated to the US to direct two action flicks, though that didn't turn out to be such a great success either. Time and Tide was somewhat of a comeback film for Hark, a film that helped him to get his own career back on track while revitalizing Hong Kong's dwindling film industry and setting a new bar for Hong Kong's action cinema in the process.
Time and Tide is somewhat of an atypical Hong Kong action film. While the action choreography borrows liberally from local martial arts cinema, there aren't too many archetypical one of one fights to be found here. Instead Hark mixes in heroic bloodshed elements and neckbreaking stunt work, making it feel more like a fancier version of Léon. On top of that Hark drummed up a gang of South-American criminals to be the film's antagonists. That may not sound like a such a big deal, until you realise what a self-contained cultural bubble Hong Kong cinema really is. It's quite rare to see foreign elements introduced, especially South-American ones.
Plotwise things aren't too exciting, then again this is a pretty straightforward action flick, so what did you expect? We follow Tyler, a young bartender looking for a better life. Little does he know he's going to get more than he bargained for when he joins up with a shady bodyguard company, run by an ex-criminal. Tyler gets mixed up in a vicious showdown between Jack (a skilled mercenary) and his former gang member, leaving him struggling to get out alive.
Hark tried to make his film look as dynamic as possible, playing around with different kinds of effects, camera angles and editing tricks, whatever got him closest to his desired result. Some of it still looks cool today, other effects feel a little outdated and surpassed by more effective techniques. For the larger part it's still very amusing, giving the action scenes a little extra pop, but I don't know if the film can survive another 15 years of progress.
The soundtrack is by far the most generic part of the film. It's hardly memorable and mostly aimed at providing some background noise during the more intense scenes. It's not even particularly effective, but at least it doesn't irritate either. It just sits there in between conversations, making sure nobody ever thinks "hey, it's kind of silent in here". It's a pretty typical score for an action film and I guess Hark isn't the man to take big risks on a soundtrack, but it would be nice if he showed a little more balls, especially when he tries to go all out on the visuals.
Nicholas Tse comfortably takes on the lead role, a part that fits him like a glove. It's Wu Bai who leaves the biggest impression though. A bit surprising maybe, as he comes off as almost invisible in the first few scenes he appears in. But his martial arts skills are impressive and combined with his ability to blend in it makes him one of the more ruthless and lethal characters I've ever seen in a film. Anthony Wong also puts in a decent performance, the rest of the cast is okay, but mostly just action film fodder.
Time and Tide features some several impressive action sequences, but the one in the apartment building really stands out. The location (a bit like old Kowloon) is amazing and used to its fullest. When Bai is jumping between buildings, crashing into apartments and running through the hallways and stairwells, Time and Tide is at its very best. It's these moments that make the film live up to its reputation, even by today's standards.
Don't be mistaken, even though Time and Tide is somewhat atypical for a Hong Kong action film, it's still a pretty pure genre effort. If you're not into action cinema you probably won't get much out of it. But if you like high octane adrenaline rushes and you can stomach Hong Kong cinema, Time and Tide is a tasty little treat. Even though some of the effects have a aged a little and the soundtrack is underdeveloped, there's still plenty of fun to be had with this one.