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Running Out Of Time Collection
Arrow Video's Running Out Of Time Collection brings together the two thrillers directed by Johnnie To in 1999 and 2001 respectively in one handsome collector's edition double feature Blu-ray release.
Running Out Of Time:
The first film, written by Frenchmen Laurent Courtiaud and Julien Carbon and then worked on by Hong Kon's Nai-Hoi Yau, introduces us to a man named Cheung (Andy Lau) who is told by his doctor that he's in the late stages of terminal cancer and has only got seventy-two hours left to live. He heads outside and without any hesitation whatsoever, robs a building in the middle of Hong Kong where he takes a hostage. The police send in Ho Sheung-sang (Lau Ching-Wan), the best of the best when it comes to dealing with situations like this, and Cheung essentially tells Ho that, over his remaining seventy-two hours, he'll be playing a game with the police. Before any more details are revealed, Cheung vanishes.
Without any other options, Ho is pulled into Cheung's game and instead of being one step ahead, finds himself playing catch up as Cheung, not long for this world, essentially goes on what appears to be a crime spree across Hong Kong, one that Ho would very much like to get on top of and put a stop to. But Cheung is also interested in getting revenge against a gangster named Baldy (Waise Lee) who he believes was responsible for killing his father some time ago. Cheung, in between his escapades, falls in love with a beautiful girl he meets on a bus (YoYo Mung) all while Ho keeps on chasing after him, unaware of the man's terminal illness.
Tightly paced and quite stylish, To's film saw Andy Lau take home the ‘Best Actor' award at the 2000 Hong Kong Film Awards and it just might be the director's best known film. It's an exciting and very tense thriller, working from a smart script and benefitting from some really strong acting. Lau's somewhat flamboyant acting style lends itself very well to his character and he and the excellent Lau Ching-Wan do great work together. Supporting efforts from Waise Lee and the beautiful YoYo Mung is decent as well, but it's the two leads who really shine here and both seasoned actors really do a great job of making the most of these interesting roles.
Those expecting some of the bullet ballet that Johnnie To and his Milkyway films are frequently known for might be, at least initially, a bit disappointed that there isn't much over the top violence and gun play in the movie (Full Time Killer this is not) but stick with it and that disappointment will soon fade. There's still plenty of good action here but the film is at its most impressive when its showing off all of the insanely intricate details that go into planning Cheung actions, these scenes are quite fascinating and as its all laid out for the viewer, tension arises when we see how many individual little things could go wrong and throw it all out of whack.
The film was a box office hit, and its success led to a sequel in the form of…
Running Out Of Time 2:
Co-directed by Johnnie To and Law Wing-Cheong from a script by Yau Nai-Hoi and Au Kin-Yee, Running Out Of Time 2 once again follows Hong Kong's best police negotiator, Ho Sheung-sang (Lau Ching-Wan again). This time around, he's targeted by a nameless thief (Ekin Cheng) who also happens to be a highly trained magician. The thief, similar to Andy Lau's character in the first movie, likes to play games and he wants to bring Ho out into the limelight to be his new playmate.
This all starts when Ho finds out that the thief has a plan to blackmail Teresa (Kelly Lin), the beautiful CEO of an important multinational corporation. Realizing that should the thief's compromat get out it could jeopardize an important deal she's been working on for some time, she agrees to pay him off. Ho, however, along with his team, has been in on this from the early stages and they give chase, hoping to bring the thief in before he can act again. This sets into place a series of setups on the part of the thief that, again, sees Ho trying to outwit his opponent and stop him before he can strike again.
This sequel is more concerned with action than the first picture, and for that reason it never quite gets as intense or engaging as the first movie. Granted, the action set pieces are exciting and well-staged but we don't get the strong character development or motivations that make the original Running Out Of Time the excellent thriller that it is. The plot feels fairly predictable this time around and the script doesn't do enough to set itself apart from the basics of the original to make it stand out.
The acting, however, is once again very strong. Lau Ching-Wan is just as good here as he was in the first film, giving the lesser material his all and doing a fine job with what he's got to work with. Ekin Cheng is quite good here as well, he looks the part and handles himself well in the action scenes. Kelly Lin isn't given as much to do as the two leads but she looks great doing it and handles the more dramatic side of her character's arc just fine.
Ultimately, if this second film doesn't really hold a candle to the first one, it's at least a decent time killer thanks to some good production values, impressive action set pieces and a solid cast.
The Running Out Of Time films arrive on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, each film on its own 50GB disc. This transfer was taken from 2k restorations undertaken by Fortune Star (who supplied the masters for this release) and they generally look quite good, if never quite reference quality. Colors look excellent here and black levels are strong and deep. Detail is decent, if not quite the best the format can offer, throughout pretty much the entirety of the each film, and there's a good amount of depth and texture present as well. The strong bit rate keeps compression artifacts out of the frame and there are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems at all. Skin tones look really strong, contrast looks great and overall these are just fine, even if new scans certainly could have yielded stronger results.
Both films get 24-bit lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 audio options, with the first film also given a lossless 24-bit LPCM English Mono track and the second film a lossless English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 track. Audio is clear for each film, with the levels nicely balanced and clear dialogue. There's some nice depth to some of the effects and the scores noticeable here and there, though understandably range is limited by the limitations of the source material here. There are separate subtitle tracks provided for each option on each disc as well, which is a nice touch on Arrow's part.
Extras are spread across the two discs in this set as follows:
Running Out Of Time:
Extras on disc one include a brand new audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng of the New York Asian Film Festival, formerly from Tai Seng Entertainment, that does a nice job of exploring the different titles that the film has been known under, it's theatrical release and success, the accolades that it received, how Cortiaud and Carbon came to work on the movie, the different cast members that appear in the picture, the various cast members To collaborated with on the picture, some of the plot twists and character arcs that occur through the movie, details on the locations used for the shoot, the use of mirror images and role reversals throughout the movie, the depiction of women in To's cinematic universe, the game aspects and gay subtext of the two main characters in the movie, thoughts on the film's ending and lots more.
The disc also includes an audio commentary by writers Laurent Cortiaud and Julien Carbon, moderated by Hong Kong film expert Stefan Hammond, that originated on the Tai Seng DVD release. They start with Hammond giving an overview of the film as well as its cast and director before then going over the different characters, details on the cast members, Lau's work as both an actor and a pop singer, their writing process, the evolution of the script and the characters, difficulties getting shooting permits and having to adjust the story accordingly, thoughts on how the script turned out in the finished movie, when and why elements of humor were added, the use of violence and gun fights in the movie and lots more.
There are quite a few featurettes here as well, starting with an archival interview with screenwriters Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud from 2003 from the French DVD release. Over twenty-two minutes they talk here about how they met and came to work with To, coming up with the concept and then the finished storyline, working with China Star, thoughts on the characters in the film, changes that had to be made to the story mainly to Andy Lau's character, having to work very quickly on the script, what To is like as a director, finding locations for the movie and having to work under very tight deadlines. Carbon and Courtiaud also appear in a second one from 2005 which originally appeared on the 2005 Tai Seng DVD. This thirty-seven minute piece goes over how a pair of French writers wound up working in Hong Kong, how they came to discover Hong Kong cinema, why Asian cinema is popular in France, thoughts on the two main leads in the film, working with To, projects that they've worked on since, how writing for Hong Kong cinema differs from writing for French cinema and quite a bit more.
An archival interview with director Johnnie To, taken from the 2003 French DVD and shown here with the English subtitles overtop of some blurred out but burned in French subtitles, runs just under twelve minutes. Here To speaks about collaborating with the film's two French writers, intending to create a smart but commercial movie with this film, working with foreign writers, reuniting Andy Lau and Lua Ching Wan for the movie and what they were like to work with, the rapport that exists between the two actors, some of the difficulties they encountered while working on the movie, having to work around Andy Lau's busy schedule and the film's popularity and success.
We also get an archival interview with star Lau Ching-wan, again taken from the 2003 French DVD and shown here with the English subtitles overtop of some blurred out but burned in French subtitles. This piece runs twenty-five minutes and discusses how To approached him to work with Lau and what it was like collaborating with Lau on the movie, working with Ekin Chang, shooting the bike chase scene, thoughts on his character in the movie, working with Patrick Leung, his favorite Milkyway movie, the pressure he felt on set during the production and stories from other films that he's been involved with.
The last of the archival interviews is with composer Raymond Wong and it's also taken from the 2003 French DVD and shown here with the English subtitles overtop of some blurred out but burned in French subtitles. This twenty-seven minute piece sees him talking about moving to Hong Kong from Canada and getting into the film business, working with Tsui Hark and then with Johnnie To on Running Out Of Time and quite a few other Milkyway productions, thoughts on how his music has been used in different movies over the years and the impact that the right music can have on a scene.
The Directors' Overview Of Carbon And Courtiaud, an archival featurette, runs for aeight minutes and is taken from the 2005 DVD release. It's an overview of the screenwriters' work by way of interviews with those who have worked with them, such as Tsui Hark, Wong Kari-wai, Lau Ching-wan, Daniel Lee and Michelle Yeoh.
Finishing things up on disc one are a theatrical trailer, an image gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
Running Out Of Time 2:
Extras on the second disc kick off with another new audio commentary by Frank Djeng that details the use of music in the film, what makes this film quite a bit different than the first one, the use of the American bald eagle in the opening sequence and where a real eagle was used versus CGI, details on the cast and crew that To worked with on the picture, some of the specifically Chinese cultural elements of the movie that might not be readily apparent to western viewers, where To's career was at during this period, the portrayal of the police in the movie, the excellent use of sound effects in the movie, locations used for the movie and lots more.
The Making Of 'Running Out Of Time 2' is an archival featurette shown here with the English subtitles overtop of some blurred out but burned in subtitles that runs six minutes and is made up of interviews with the lead actors talking about their characters and what it was like on set as well as clips from the movie and some behind the scenes footage.
Hong Kong Stories, a 52-minute documentary from 2003 by director Yves Montmayeur (the man who directed Johnnie Got His Gun) that covers Hong Kong cinema mythology by way of exploring Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud's experience as screenwriters in Hong Kong where they wound up working for and collaborating with Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark, Daniel Lee and Johnnie To. It does a nice job of showing off Hong Kong proper but allows Carbon and Courtiaud to discuss in detail how they came to work in Hong Kong, what it was like working with some of the area's best known filmmakers, what makes it a great place and sometimes a very challenging place to work, having to develop their storylines very quickly, the importance of the Hong Kong New Wave movement, the impact that some of the films that came out of Hong Kong before their work had on them, how real life crimes and events often inspire movies in Hong Kong and whether or not this is exploitation and more.
Finishing things up on disc two are a theatrical trailer, an image gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
This release also comes packaged with an illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing on the films by David West titled On The Edge: Connection, Isolation, And Identity In Running Out Of Time 1 & 2 as well as cast and crew credits for both films and notes on the technical presentation for each movie. Arrow also includes a slipcover and some reversible cover sleeve art for this release.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray release of the Running Out Of Time Collection offers up one stone cold classic of Hong Kong cinema and its inferior but entertaining sequel in decent looking editions on discs packed with extras that do a nice job of exploring the films' respective histories. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.