June 03, 2010

Time and Tide

Based on the title, cover art, its Columbia Pictures distribution, and subtitles, you might assume that Time and Tide is an art theater film, along the lines of Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love (an excessively melancholic, but nevertheless worthwhile, film--and Maggie Cheung is gorgeous throughout).

You'd be wrong. It's a rollicking hoot of a Hong Kong action flick.

The subtitles I certainly appreciate, though they result in some curious incongruities (see below). At any rate, it’d be difficult to dub a yarn this tangled. There's more plot per minute than I think should be allowed by law.

It starts with Tyler (the photogenic Nicholas Tse, also in Gen X Cops), a feckless Hong Kong bartender who, after a drunken on night stand, gets Jo, one of his patrons, who happens to been just dumped by her girlfriend (yes, the pronouns are correct), pregnant.

Nine months later (you saw that coming), in a fit of responsibility, he gets a job with his Uncle Ji in order to support her (though she expresses no interest in him). His uncle runs an unlicensed security firm staffed by debtors who owe his failed loan shark company money. Tyler's not any more qualified than his uncle for working in the bodyguard business, but that doesn't deter either of them.

They get a big job providing security for Hong, a Hong Kong mobster, at his birthday party. Hong's daughter (also very pregnant; that's two very pregnant women if you're keeping count) is married to Jack (Wu Bai), who happens to have been, once upon a time, a hit man for a band of South American bank robbin' mercenaries. These mercenaries, led by one Pablo, have decided to set up shop in Hong Kong, and the first item on the agenda is to take over Hong's operation. They hire Jack to do the hit.

Jack double crosses them and knocks off Pablo instead. Miguel, the vice henchman, vows to hunt him down. Hong, apparently not clued into the double cross (well, he definitely doesn't care for Jack as a son in law), is also gunning for him. And then there's a big suitcase of money in a locker somewhere. (Miguel, for some reason, mostly speaks English--except when he's singing about cockroaches--while everybody else in the gang speaks Spanish.

This must have confused the subtitling guy as well, who subtitles everything, even when Miguel is speaking English.)

Having established all that, the entire second half of the movie involves everybody trying to kill everybody else (running all over a Blade Runner-esque apartment complex), with Tyler stuck in the middle trying to: A) get Jo to like him; B) stay alive, or at least not get the crap beat out of him every five minutes; C) keep Jack's wife alive; D) get his hands on a gun that actually works.

After saving a runaway train, delivering a baby, and wiping out most of the Hong Kong police department, there is a happy, sentimental ending. Okay, it's not great art (though director Tsui Hark has dreamed up some breathtakingly creative action shots), but it is great fun. And thankfully impossible to take as seriously as the title suggests.