Tsui Hark’s semi-classic hasn’t aged as well as it would have liked, but it’s got its charms.
“Do all pregnant women look so glum?”
Hong Kong’s action films of the late 90s and early 2000s sure do have a unique look, don’t they? There’s something immediately recognisable in them, from their edgy plots to their (I am assured) very cool smart-alec protagonists with overstyled hair. I’ve previously looked at some other examples – notably the Benny Chan-helmed Gen-X Cops series – and have to admit I was looking forward to seeing what veteran director Tsui Hark would bring to the table with Time and Tide.
Nicholas Tse plays Tyler, a bartender who takes a job in a bodyguard agency run by Uncle Ji (Anthony Wong) after sleeping with and knocking up a police officer (Candy Lo), in order to help pay for the baby (despite her wanting nothing to do with him). He also wants to escape to Brazil and live a life away from the gritty, headache inducing world of contemporary Hong Kong crime films. However, his life takes sharp turns into the violent when his latest job accidentally pits him against a group of Brazilian thugs who are after Tyler’s most recent client, mercenary Jack (Wu Bai).
Time and Tide’s plot is somehow both extremely straightforward and simple while also being entirely incomprehensible in places, but at least the more basic elements work in its favour. By eschewing any major plot twists and keeping everything genre-standard, Tsui Hark allows himself to play with his directing style a little more and this results in a film that, for better or worse, fully embraces its own time period.
In that regard, the film is some of the most 90s-2000s shit I’ve ever seen, from Tyler’s name and general Matrix-inspired wardrobe to the freeze-frame 180 degree spinning shots of explosions. In fact, it oozes so much turn of the century energy that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a modern film trying to emulate the style. The film’s opening few minutes are a delirious collection of vaguely-connected scenes that eventually come together to form the plot of the story, but are constructed in such a way as to surely purposefully disorient you. Things slow down once the players are established, and this allows the cast a chance to breathe and spit out whatever chunks of scenery are stuck in their teeth.
The action is fun, when it isn’t doing awful CGI zoom-ins and ugly, aged-like-milk bullet-time bullshit. It’s the sort of film where the majority of the fun comes from the stunts and the fisheyed, Dutch camera angles, and to see Nicholas Tse jump into a fridge to avoid an explosion long before Indiana Jones did it. It’s all very silly, but at least it’s competently-made silliness. Not every movie has a message or a personal statement and Time and Tide is a perfect example of this sort of pointless-but-fun distraction. It’s a million miles away from Tsui Hark’s best work, but it’s also the only film where a young man has to help deliver a baby while the mother shoots blindly at attackers, so it’s not a complete bust.
Verdict: A time capsule of everything that made that era of action thrillers fun (and sometimes unwatchable), Time and Tide seems like an awfully fitting title in hindsight.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Pregnancies: More of those than there is sex
Ah Hui’s Baby: Well, I guess it’s deaf after being so close to all those guns
English language acting: Terrible, naturally
Time and Tide (2000)
Also known as: 順流逆流
Director: Tsui Hark
Writers: Koan Hui, Tsui Hark
Nicholas Tse – Tyler
Wu Bai – Jack
Candy Lo – Ah Hui
Cathy Tsui – Jo
Anthony Wong – Uncle Ji
Jun Kung – Miguel