Running out of Time (暗戰) Made in: Hong Kong Language: Cantonese Director: Johnnie To Starring: Andy Lau, Lau Ching-Wang, Waise Lee, Shiu Hung Hui, YoYo Mung Year: 1999
Synopsis: Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Cheung (Andy Lau) learns that he only has four weeks to live. So what does he do? He masterminds an elaborate but bizarre diamond heist and temporarily takes a hostage. The plan, however, seems to just be a ploy in order to get the attention of Inspector Ho (Lau Ching-Wang), a brilliant but unconventional hostage negotiator.
Hampered by an incompetent police chief (played by Shiu Hung-Hui), Inspector Ho and Cheung begin a dangerous game of "catch-me-if-you-can." Cheung savors the chase, but the undeterred Inspector Ho manages to keep up. After a time, the two develop a strange bond.
In the midst of investigating, Ho uncovers a hidden revenge plot behind Cheung's criminal antics, which involves a notorious gangster (Waise Lee).
The Good: Very well crafted, complex, and entertaining, Running out of Time is a smart action thriller that's totally unpredictable. Lau Ching-Wang is a great character actor, and although his sarcastic Inspector Ho has all the familiar qualities of a hard-boiled detective, he somehow gives the role a personal touch that avoids genre cliches.
The chemistry between him and Andy Lau is also great, as Lau does an excellent job playing the inscrutable and brilliant thief. The plot twists are very cool, and the story hooks you until the end.
Unlike a lot of other high-octane Hong Kong action thrillers that contain more shooting than most real-life civil wars, director Johnnie To (for this film) relies more on plot elements, character development, and suspense rather than stunts and bullet holes.
The Bad: Although great but not perfect, Running out of Time has a few minor flaws. Nothing too serious, but you might have trouble suspending your disbelief during a few scenes.
And although not plot related, I got a hold of a DVD version of this movie that was only so-so in terms of quality. The picture was all right but the sound was quite spotty in several places. If you're interested in renting this foreign film, obtain a digitally remastered version if one exists.
Who would like this movie: This action movie's for you if you're into complicated heist plots and if you're in the mood for a smart thriller. You'll have to pay close attention to every detail, because important elements, even lines of dialogue, are subtle but important.
Running out of Time is not the sort of Hong Kong movie with tons of explosions and mayhem, but it's fast paced, slick, and a lot of fun nonetheless. And it should be noted that, unlike many other Hong Kong films, the music score in this one is actually quite good!