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Time and Tide

Nicholas Tse in Time and Tide.
Chinese: 順流逆流  
Year: 2000  
Director: Tsui Hark  
Action: Xiong Xin-Xin  

Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Wu Bai, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Jun Kung, Candy Lo Hau-Yam, Cathy Tsui Chi-Kei, Joe Lee Yiu-Ming, Jack Gao

The Skinny: Tsui Hark's long-awaited return to Hong Kong film is a strangely effective hybrid of his over-the-top Hong Kong wonders and his overdone American crap. The result is questionably coherent, but it's got Tsui Hark's trademark style and cinematic energy to spare. The movie will undoubtedly annoy and frustrate some, but to others it could be just the HK Cinema rush they've been waiting for.
by Kozo:

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 happens.

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 destiny—and 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 knows?

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 worthwhile—and even strangely compelling—from it. (Kozo 2001/2002)

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and dubbed English language tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Director's Audio Commentary
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image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen