|Plot Outline: Police officer Ho is above everyone in his department in terms of talent and police knowledge, he regularly teaches his own bosses lessons in detective work and is generall the figure head of the station. At his polar opposite, somewhere in the city, Cheung is a criminal mastermind who was brought up in a life of crime. Cheung is left with nothing left to fear after being told he has only a short amount of time left to live. With this knowledge, Cheung sets out for one last big heist and one last game with the one man who can match his own intellect. Cheung and Ho are about to collide in a deadly game of deception and trickery, and through the course of events, the two will find their perfect nemesis.|
The Review: As I discussed in my earlier review of The Mission, I have been more than a little late in coming around to the work of one Mr. Johnny To. That doesn’t mean I can’t make up for it by watching as many flicks of his as I can in a row! After being enthralled by The Mission, I set my sights on “Running Out of Time” – a film that has always been reccomended to me alongside The Mission. Although the two films couldn’t be any more different in terms of plot and accomplishments; the two films show the diversity and character traits of the director in action. Running Out of Time shows that same wit and love for a twisting plot that catches the audience off guard and putting them into place. His love of the “thriller” is excellently displayed, and along for the ride is To’s apparent love for the slightly over the top “cool” characters. This isn’t a henderance to the film like it would be for some films, although To’s characters are all but superhuman – they find a way to remain grounded. To show their human side. That doesn’t stop them from still being pretty friggin’ cool.
There is a particular genre of crime thriller that I believe Johnny To seems to excel at making. Films like this one or the mission would sit comfortably alongside the likes of Heat on any given day. There are influences abound in his films. From Michael Mann and Scorsese to John Woo and Quinton Tarantino. Johnny To packs in the “cool” characters like Tarantino and Woo; but they’re not the grungey-realistic type you might find in a Tarantino picture; nor are they the classy buy highly emotional gentlemen that John Woo crafted. To takes bits and pieces of everything around him and creates archetypical characters with few flaws – but give them obsessions and emotions that lift them above simply being cowboys running around the old west with no limits or boundaries. Such is the case with the leading man in Running Out of Time, he is the perfect cop. Going so far as to chastising his own supervisors for constantly getting in the way of his procedures. Similar in fact to Kevin Spacey’s character in The Negotiator; which could have also helped to inspire the film. Although our leading man here doesn’t have to worry about his bosses playing on the opposite field. They are simply inept in comparison to his unearthly street knowledge and policeman abilities. He is accompanied by his arch rival who shows he is just as swift in the game, if not more so than he even is. The characters become infatuated with one another not totally unlike the characters in John Woo’s The Killer – but only without the slightly romantic undertones of that film and the general melodrama that Woo tends to enjoy. I point out the references and I compare Johnny To’s films to others not simply as a base of reference – but to clue in those, who have not had the pleasure to witness any of his films, as to just the sort of director he is and is not. I’m not meaning to degrade any film or filmmaker referenced; all are great but have drastically different styles. Johnny To is simply in a category unto himself; much like the previously mentioned filmmakers.
The visual style of Running Out of Time is similar to The Mission, the visual pallete is toned down in subtle blue and grays during interior moments and bright and lush during the outside shots. To’s films catch the eye, however what draws the viewer in isn’t simply flashy visuals or a highly exciting visual style – but the director’s handling and fast intense delivery of very detailed story. With Infernal Affairs catching on, and Hollywood desperately searching HK for the next flick they can remake – expect To’s filmography to be raided and I suspect films like this one will at some point find their way into the Hollywood pre-production pool. Although all films of this sort won’t have the luck to be placed under the watchful eyes of Scorsese; no matter how bad any remakes might be – the air of class and authenticity of character found in Johnny To’s work will not be budged. Who knows what may come, but I urge those of you who are as late to the tea party as I have been on this fabulous director’s body of work – get out there and pick up a few of these films. Fulltime Killer, The Mission and Running Out of Time have cemented Johnny To in my top ten list of Asian filmmakers – which is a list I’m sure he was dying to be found on (please note my self depricating sarcasm); but regardless of how miniscule my opinion may be it doesn’t change the fact that Johnny To is one fantastic filmmaker and Running Out of Time is a testament to just that very fact. I’m giving it a four of five score, due to the inward comparison I have to live with after seeing The Mission first and knowing just how great tight To’s scripts can be. Running Out of Time can at times be somewhat wandering; and there is a love interest in the film that possibly should have either been included more in the film in my opinion – or possibly worked out of it altogether. That however, is very debatable since To does make decent work of tying it into the finale. Still, simple personal opinions keep it from being as great as The Mission or Fulltime Killer and more along the lines of The Big Heat. Regardless; I would definitely reccomend all those who are interested to pick up all three films and watch them in the order that they were made to truly grow and appreciate To’s style of filmmaking. In conclusion: WATCH THE MOVIES! Can’t get any more out in the open than that one!