***/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B-
starring Nicholas Tse, Wu Bai, Anthony Wong, Joventino Couto Remotigue
written by Koan Hui & Tsui Hark
directed by Tsui Hark
by Bill Chambers Director Tsui Hark stands apart from his Chinese contemporaries by committing to a tone and relative congruity. Having made a couple of English-language pictures starring a Belgian (the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles Double Team and Knock-Off) and been schooled at a Southern Methodist university in Dallas, Hark is formally acquainted with the American mainstream, thankyouverymuch. His (post-Van Damme) Hong Kong import Time and Tide, while still a reminder of why it's easy for us westerners to become a fan of HK cinema yet a bit of a chore to stay one, seems a learned genre concentrate. Although its plot is by and large in the Asia pulp tradition--that is, of an elusive logic--the film wins us over with phenomenal artistry and energy, and its breathers from the mayhem don't feel like conceptual U-turns.
In the Hong Kong-set Time and Tide's opening narration, Hark himself paraphrases the first few verses of the Old Testament. The philosophy that women create and men destroy is the film's minimal subtext, with parallel pregnancies instilling a particular conscientiousness in our heroes, a pair of fathers-to-be. The directionless Tyler (Nicholas Tse, a veteran of Hark's oeuvre) has a drunken one-night-stand with a lipstick lesbian (Cathy Chui) and nine months later learns that she's with child. He goes to work for his Uncle Ji's (Anthony Wong) lucrative bodyguard company in order to pay child support and maybe one day earn enough to retire to a beach in South America. Around this time, Tyler befriends the enigmatic Jack (Wu Bai; funny how the names of the main characters echo Fight Club's), who's deep in hot water with South American mercenary Miguel (Joventino Couto Remotigue) and trying to keep his wealthy, expectant wife (Candy Lo) out of the fray. Can't help you much with a synopsis past that point.
For the most part, Hark avoids that which does not directly influence a forward momentum, but the use of the mirror device in Time and Tide is something of a thematic red herring: Miguel, like Tyler, dreams of a far off place, but Hong Kong; the theft of a cigarette lighter punctuates two scenes; the two pregnant women even go into labour simultaneously. Even though these dyads clever up the material basic, there's no sure idea behind them--the film's style is far sweeter than its attempts at substance. There isn't a critic alive who wouldn't feel, as I just did, a twinge of guilt after writing that, because of all the carping we do about thrill-driven American films. But to my thinking, it's a case of Hollywood blockbusters lacking enough style to triumph over their feeble screenplays. One can only put the cart before the horse if one has both a cart and a horse.
Tsui Hark is a formidable visual talent. Time and Tide is quite literally jarring in its inventiveness, the camera pushing the envelope often and always with grace. We don't just observe a man leaping from many stories up, we follow him down; elsewhere, a car chase unfolds as it might if a documentarian were lucky enough to catch one in the act. The casing of a live grenade lights up with supernatural beauty as it spirals towards us, and we chance peril by running through the consequent explosion to see what shrapnel and fire did to the bad guy. Images become the very poetry the humdrum and confusing, if functional and cohesive, story seeks, especially in juxtapositions of Hong Kong's neon and concrete jungles and the transitional title credits, so fragile that they crumble from the faintest touch. Time and Tide looks imaginative, and that's sufficient.
Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Time and Tide features a gritty-on-purpose 2.35:1 letterboxed, 16x9-enhanced transfer with controlled yet vivid colour rendering. The darkest scenes have ill-defined shadows that, compounded by the grain, can make for difficult viewing in anything less than a pitch-black environment. Slight shimmer is also an issue, though I should point out that the source print was in above-average shape for an HK import.
The default audio is an English dub (credibly voice cast and overseen by Mike Schlesinger of the Americanized Godzilla 2000) in rich, transparent Dolby Digital 5.1, and while it sounds technically fantastic, purist that I am, I will always watch Time and Tide in Cantonese (5.1, too, with dialogue mixed a bit quieter). Kudos to Columbia TriStar for giving us that option. Also on board: a screen-specific commentary from Hark in which he mumbles a steady helping of information, from the steps that were taken to age Cathy Chui's appearance (she was seventeen (!) in real life) to the original, gargantuan length of the film. The track is additionally good for CliffsNotes on Time and Tide's plotline. Filmographies and non-anamorphic trailers for Time and Tide, Once Upon a Time in China, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Miracles finish off this disc. Originally published: August 5, 2001.