Sunday, July 08, 2012

[In Flight] Running Out of Time (暗戰 / Am Zin) (1999)

No Time

This is truly a blast from the past, given one of the widest range of films from one of the best inflight entertainment systems in the world, that I had to choose something like Running Out of Time from 1999. But then again, it isn't everyday that Andy Lau plays a negative role, and sharing screen time with Lau Ching Wan, coupled with the fact that this is a Milkyway production and one of Johnnie To's earlier crime capers, even before classics such as The Mission and PTU.

Running Out of Time is really edge of your seat material, as the story by Yau Nai-Hoi (who went on to write more Milkyway crime thrillers, and also directed his own with Eye in the Sky), Laurent Courtiaud and Julien Carbon kept the pacing tight, and the rationale of why Andy Lau's Cheung is doing what he's doing firmly under wraps. It's classic cat and mouse game that Cheung decides to play once he's given an ultimatum in life, dying from a disease and given weeks to live, that he sets his plan in motion, and ear marks Inspector Ho (Lau Ching Wan), an ex special forces turned negotiator, as the conduit he would go exploit as part of that plan. And given Ho's stellar track record, with plenty of unorthodox means utilized, he's up for the challenge of his career when he knows that Cheung almost always remain one step ahead of him with contingency plans ready for execution.

It's the bonds of brotherhood formed between the two man on opposite sides of the law that makes Running Out of Time an engaging watch, and more so when you have two of Hong Kong's finest actors of their generation together in a film playing off each other, complementary and never adversary in their delivery. Lau rarely plays a negative role, so fans should lap up his character here as the man with the plan, a charmer with a little romantic subplot on the side opposite Yoyo Mung, who plays a woman he meets on the bus, and who becomes his alibi of sorts, useful during police road blocks. While that romance may seem like an after-thought and never amounted to much, it did provide for a facet of the character emotionally in the finale, and this is the sort of characters that are developed aplenty in a typical Milkyway Production subsequently.

Lau Ching Wan on the other hand had a field day with the usual eccentricities that he fleshes in his role, being a well respected cop amongst his peers, except for some superiors with whom he almost makes a mickey out of each time there's opportunity. As mentioned, what made the story typical by now in today's terms, would be the friendship forged between his character and his enemy, with respect developed by the direct consequence of being defeated on multiple fronts and episodes, and the potential of firm friendship had the men both be on the same side. If the slickness of the characters amount to something, together with the sleight of hand executed so wonderfully, then credit also has to go to both Andy Lau and Lau Ching Wan for their charisma and epitome of coolness on the big screen.

Johnnie To regular Lam Suet makes an appearance here with Waise Lee playing a villain, cementing Running Out of Time as an early forerunner to the potential that the director would come to enjoy with his subsequent, more sophisticated crime thrillers, known for their tight storylines, electic pacing and fine characters. Recommended, as this ages like fine wine.

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