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TIME AND TIDE

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Nicholas Tse, Wu Bai, Anthony Wong
Director:  Tsui Hark
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround (both Cantonese and English)
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Trailers, Filmographies, Director's Commentary
Length:  113 Minutes
Release Date:  August 7, 2001

Film ***1/2

Tsui Hark is a legendary name among international action fans.  As a director, writer and producer, he's not only helped launch the careers of John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, but he's brought some of the genre's most memorable films to the big screen, including the Once Upon a Time in China and A Better Tomorrow series, as well as A Chinese Ghost Story.  His fans love him dearly…and now, with his latest film Time and Tide, Hark has given back to his fans the love letter they deserve.

This is simply one of the most astounding and exhilarating motion picture experiences I've ever encountered.  Scene after scene is filled with non stop action, shot in creative ways and showing things never before seen on a movie screen.  Most of them defy description, but some of the more jaw-dropping moments include a giant explosion in an apartment that freezes a second or two into it, while the camera moves through the flying debris and blossoming fireball, a high speed backwards drive that leaves a car engine smoking and sputtering, and a woman on her back in labor while firing a gun to cover the man assisting her in childbirth.

The plot is hard to pin down…in fact, I'll quote television critic Richard Roeper who pondered, “Is it possible to recommend a movie even if you didn't know what the hell was going on half the time?”  He concluded that it was very possible; I drew the same conclusion.

After a narrative consideration of the book of Genesis, the story begins.  It involves two parallel characters.  The younger, Tyler (Tse), has managed to get a lesbian cop pregnant through events neither can fully remember the next day.  Feeling obliged to help, he takes a job in his uncle's shady bodyguard business, and slips his wads of cash under her door (in one slyly humorous scene, we see the woman's dog has been chewing the money up).

The other character is Jack (Bai), a slightly older and more experienced mercenary.  He has a wife who is pregnant as well…perhaps this explains the bond that immediately forms between the men when they first encounter each other at an assignment where both are protecting the same dignitary.

Later, however, the new friends end up on opposing sides in a different assignment, involving some recently escaped Mexican or Spanish gang members.  The plot lost me a couple of times, I must admit, and I'm not sure subsequent viewings will help explain things in a satisfactory way.  Most of the time, the film plays with the concept that the characters understand their relationships to one another, even if we're not sure what those are.

The true star of the picture is Hark, who has crafted imaginative and heart-stopping sequences that will leave your eyes as wide open as your jaw.  Hark's genius is twofold.  One, he knows how to stage an action sequence, and two, he knows how to place and move his cameras to increase the tension and visual power of each one.  When a character on a rope leaps through a window for a rapid descent down the side of a building, we're not just watching it from a standard angle.  The camera goes THROUGH the window after him, and follows him down the rope.

Hark also experiments with different styles of “punctuating” his action.  Sometimes, he'll freeze a climactic moment for a split second.  Sometimes, he'll add chaos to a scene by using deliberate cuts and angle changes, completely defying natural time and perspective.  The late Stanley Kubrick once commented that editing was the true backbone of the art of filmmaking, because it allows you to see events unfolding in the way your own eye and the natural world could never allow for.  That's the sense of style and experimentation Hark brings to his film.  Most of the time, it not only works, but works to the point where you can't help but think you've never seen anything like it before.

I've been a fan of Hark and Hong Kong cinema for many years now, so when I say that Time and Tide is quite possibly the best film I've ever seen for pure action, stuntwork and cinematography, I don't say it lightly.  This is one no action fan should pass up…you don't have to fully understand it to enjoy it or appreciate it.

Video ***1/2

Columbia Tri Star strikes gold with one of the best looking transfers I've yet seen for an Asian film on DVD.  It helps that the movie is a new one, but I don't want to deny the studio the credit they deserve for a terrific anamorphic offering.  Hark's vision is often one of cool colors broken up by hot spots, and these clashing schemes actually play off one another with great beauty and clarity.  I never noticed any bleeding, softness, distortions or other problems to mar the image.  Save for an occasional touch of grain (very, very rare and barely noticeable), this is a near perfect looking disc.

Audio ****

Wow!  You can listen to this movie in 5.1 in either the original Cantonese or English dubbed versions, but whichever one you choose, prepare yourself to be blown away.  This is one of the best sounding discs I've ever heard.  Sure, you expect multi-channel usage to come alive during action sequences (and boy, does it ever), but what you might NOT expect is almost constant use of the rear stage even when bullets and bodies aren't flying.  Ambient sounds emanate throughout the picture, including machinery, storm effects, reverb for dialogue, crowd noises, ringing phones, and so on.  It keeps you in the middle of the picture for the duration.  When the fights or car chases start, hang on, because the crossovers from side to side and front to back are smooth, the .1 channel delivers the vibrations, and the dynamic range is spectacular.  Reference quality all the way.

Features ***

Though the features are limited, I give it high marks because I enjoyed the commentary track with Tsui Hark very much.   He speaks English quite well, and offers plenty of detail and information on his ideas and experiments.  He also tells us a little about the actors, many of whom might be unfamiliar to American audiences.  Overall, his speaking style is very unassuming and friendly.  It's always great to hear one of a genre's true masters open up and share his thoughts.  The disc also includes a trailer for this movie plus a number of bonus ones, and filmographies for Hark and Tse.

Summary:

Action films just don't come more explosive, imaginative, or intense than Time and Tide.  You might not always follow the plot, but you will always find your knuckles white and your jaw open.  This is an exhilarating DVD movie experience…highly recommended for any action fan.