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Throughout the nineties and particularly, at the dawn of the century, Hong Kong filmmaker Johnny To has been a very busy man. His highly prolific status and fecund imagination have played a vital role in reviving the Hong Kong film industry. It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by To’s body of work, effortlessly switching between versatile genres during remarkably short production periods. Due to his decidedly stubborn nature, it is almost futile to recognise any Johnny To consistencies, especially considering that his titles rarely adhere to a single thematic focus. Perhaps the only underlying message that remains predominant is that life is unpredictable; an invaluable lesson for today’s generation. To’s award winning, bitter-sweet “cat & mouse” yarn Running out of Time was reasonably well received, heralding one of the most auspicious titles in recent Hong Kong cinema. In 2001, the acclaimed director decided to continue the story in a sequel, assembling much of the original cast but introducing a brand new thief.

Running out of Time 2

Film


Ekin Cheng replaces Andy Lau as the new ultra-cool swindler, who is demanding a $20 million ransom in exchange for three priceless artefacts that he managed to swipe from one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious insurance firms. Manager Teresa (played by Kelly Lin) seeks assistance from Inspector Ho (Ching Wan Lau) to stop this criminal for damaging her company’s image. Thus begins the chase, the thief leads the inspector around ridiculous obstacles without ever revealing his true intentions. It is unclear whether Cheng’s character has any other motive other than to mock the police. The game is over once the thief is captured or if he manages to grab the ransom.

Contrary to the film’s title, Running out of Time 2 is unforgivably manipulative and is essentially a poor man’s parody of a vastly superior prequel. Whilst the first title featured a thief who was dying, he literally was running out of time. The sequel conversely has nothing to suggest a chronological limit. In fact, the only way it is linked to the first film is by characters only; the story revolves around a whole new case taken by Inspector Ho, yet the events seem tragically familiar this time round. The story is a recycled copy of Running out of Time, which omits all of the surprises and emotional porosity in favour of illogical and farcical predicaments.

The idea was redundant from the very beginning; as an admirer of Asian cinema, it is frustrating to imagine that a respected filmmaker would knowingly create an inferior title. Thinking realistically for a moment, it is highly unlikely that a continuation of a concluded story will work – especially if one is going to film the same movie twice. The structure is identical but the motivation is clearly absent, leaving a hollow premise with clumsy execution.

Ekin Cheng is a fine actor and in all fairness, delivers a brave performance as the latest criminal annoying the Hong Kong police department. The problem is that his character is not very likeable, as he keeps his history cloudy until the closing chapters. At least with Andy Lau, the audience felt affection for an individual who was trying to make the most with the time he had left. In Running out of Time 2, Ekin Cheng’s character relies on illusions and trickery to escape from the clutches of determined Inspector Ho, utilising green smoke and magic mirrors to confuse his opponent. Moreover, Ekin always ensures that his character is smiling, making him appear a little too suave and smug for this reviewer to appreciate.

Running out of Time 2
However the prize for most rewarding performance goes to Ching Wan Lau, who is always on top form, regardless of title and Running out of Time 2 is no exception. He is a Hong Kong film regular that producers seem to bank on without hesitation, appearing in almost a hundred film and TV projects over the past two decades. Furthermore, Lau has previously collaborated with Johnny To in such titles as My Left Eye sees Ghosts and A Hero Never Dies. Therefore, it is imperative that the actor possesses a high degree of versatility in order to adapt to To’s contrasting projects. He is accompanied by well established comic relief, Shiu Hung Hui, who handles the role of incompetent assistant Wong Kai Fa. Alongside Ekin Cheng, the trio display an amazing relationship with superb emphasis on the facial expressions to portray their joys and frustrations.

Sadly, Kelly Lin is rather pitiful in her portrayal of the film’s leading lady and love interest. This Taiwanese born model turned actress speaks primarily in English, with a little Cantonese thrown in for good measure. Truthfully, it does not matter what language Lin speaks in, as she will still sound just as wooden. Never before has this reviewer encountered such a lifeless, monotonous performance since Sofia Coppola in The Godfather: Part III. No Hong Kong film is complete without a minor role from Suet Lam, who seems to appear in every second title released in Hong Kong at the moment. Running out of Time 2 has a sub-plot that highlights Suet Lam’s character as an unlucky negotiator who owes a large sum of money to a loan shark. Ekin Cheng taunts him with repetitive games of “heads or tails”, in which Lam consistently loses.

Money and wealth are the fundamental issues being depicted by Johnny To this time; he is basically highlighting that there are far more important things in this world besides money. The people around us, our friends, are our greatest treasures; therefore, the gift of generosity should never go by neglected and be undervalued. Upon reflection, there are some fine morals to be savoured but to have them embedded in an unnecessary sequel was incredibly wasteful. Johnny To’s trademark charisma and enthusiasm engulf the entire film, from Raymond Wong’s extravagant orchestral score to the lavishly sophisticated camerawork. Whilst the aforementioned traits are undeniably mesmerising, the balance is restored by the presence of a pointless golden eagle and bitterly disappointing anti-climax.

Running out of Time 2

Video


Running out of Time 2 is presented in a colourful anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is refreshingly radiant, utilising vibrant shade reproduction without harming the accuracy. Skin tones and textures are kept natural, despite being smothered in bright, phosphorescent lighting. Even the blacks are nourishing deep and are complemented well by the shadow details; arguably the finest DVD representation for a long time. In addition, the level of detail is astonishing; strands of hair, fabric compositions and even background items are strikingly rich with precision. Body movements are kept fluid, exhibiting no signs of ghosting or even motion blurring. Tai Seng have done a splendid job, igniting the screen with a praiseworthy transfer that maintains a delicate balance in terms of saturation, brightness and contrast levels. Only minor speckles and grain are frequent enough to cause visual discomfort; thankfully the strengths greatly outweigh the cons in this case.

Audio


Tai Seng have blessed the UK DVD with three Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, where the former is of course the film’s original language. As soon as the disc begins to spin, the sheer warmth splendour of Raymond Wong’s powerful score is exploited by Dolby Digital technology. The chorus, strings and percussion combine in perfect harmony to create a thoroughly moving credit sequence; once they are played in the movie itself then the experience is taken into a whole new level. There are plenty of clever directional effects generated by the rears, which are kept busy from start to finish. Sudden footsteps, explosions and collisions are exposed with ultimate clarity from the appropriate channels. The surround sound experience is strikingly authentic – a fine example of what is to be expected from recent DVD transfers.

Running out of Time 2
The Mandarin and English dubs tone down the effects slightly but manage to keep the score intact dynamically. The lip synchronisation is achieved of a professional standard, although the English translation is somewhat loose in order to accommodate this. There are new jokes in the English track that are vastly different to the subtitles but overall, the primary story is narrated reasonably accurately. Bizarrely, both dubs replace the L’Internationale song with an unusual waltz number, which occurs during the opening 15 minutes. To add further bewilderment, the English track re-dubs the English dialogue with new voice actors; the mouth movements match but the voices have definitely been replaced.

The optional English subtitles are decent, with only a few grammatical mishaps. Unlike previous Tai Seng products, these appear promptly and do not fade in and out.

Extras


The only supplementary material of any value is a brief 5m39s making of featurette, which is essentially an on-set interview with Ekin Cheng and Ching Wan Lau. Both appear remarkably enthusiastic of the sequel and portray how the changes will affect their respective characters. They also shed some light on what it was like to collaborate with such a respected filmmaker. This must’ve been ported from the HK disc, as it does feature burned in Chinese subtitles. There is also a lot of background noise from the film crew, assembling the set for the next scene – good job there are optional English subtitles for the viewer to read.

Lastly, a few Tai Seng trailers have been placed on the disc to showcase their impressive range of Far Eastern cinema.

Running out of Time 2

Overall


Johnny To has pretty much regurgitated the same film; Running out of Time 2 is a diluted mockery of its prequel, lacking any emotional poignancy and gritty suspense. However if one were to analyse this as a standalone film, then it remains far from a complete disaster. To has crammed enough style and charisma to sustain interest but these ideas should really have been saved for a completely different project. Tai Seng have presented the disc with tremendous care and respect .This is perhaps one of their finest DVD treatments, so those who truly wish to own a copy of Running out of Time 2 are advised to seek out the UK version.


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