Pow! bam! blooey!
There should be some kind of prize for anyone who can follow the plot of Time and Tide—a vacation in Hong Kong, maybe, or a bit part in director Tsui Hark’s next movie. Actually, for that matter, the prize could be a million dollars a day for life—I don’t think there’s any danger of anybody ever claiming it.
Here, for what it’s worth, and with a bit of guessing to fill things in, is what I was able to make of it: The young hero is Tyler (Nicholas Tse), a bartender in a Hong Kong saloon. One night he starts drinking with a young lesbian (Cathy Chui) who’s just had a spat with her lover. The next morning they wake up in bed together, horribly hung over and, in the woman’s case, pregnant. The woman wants nothing to do with Tyler, but he still feels responsible, so to make some money to funnel to her he takes a job with his Uncle Ji, an unsuccessful loan shark who has gone into the unlicensed-bodyguard business. Uncle Ji’s new business is only slightly more promising than his old one: all his operatives are former debtors who never paid up.
Uncle Ji takes a job protecting a big-time gang lord, and on this assignment Tyler meets Jack (Wu Bai), whose pregnant wife (Candy Lo) is the gang lord’s daughter. The two expectant fathers hit it off right away.
This has unexpected repercussions when Tyler and Uncle Ji (God only knows how) wind up working for the gang lord’s chief rival. Jack assassinates this other gang lord right under Tyler and Uncle Ji’s noses. Jack’s in disguise when he does it—in fact, he uses three or four disguises in his escape.
Nevertheless, Tyler recognizes him.
After that, the hell with it, I just gave up. There’s something about Tyler wanting to go to South America, and something about somebody (Jack?) coming from South America, something else about some thugs on an airport runway threatening Jack’s wife, and a showdown in a train station that spills over into an arena where some kind of concert is going on. What all this means, only Tsui and his co-writer Koan Hui can say.
And yet Time and Tide is undeniably entertaining. The English title couldn’t be more perfect; here’s a movie that waits for no one. Tsui doesn’t dawdle over anything, doesn’t even pause; he just keeps plowing through all his action set pieces. There’s only one moment in the whole movie that approaches tranquility or quiet reflection—when Cathy Chui, as Tyler’s pregnant one-night stand, finds herself smiling (in spite of herself) at the thought of him.
Aside from that, it’s all pow! bam! blooey! rat-a-tat-a-tat! in the time-honored Hong Kong action tradition. But—and this is also in the Hong Kong tradition—Tsui disdains the kind of computer-generated derring-do that made Tom Cruise and Brendan Fraser look so unconvincingly superhuman in the Mission: Impossible and Mummy movies. Tsui’s only concession to special effects is an endearingly cheesy explosion that guts an apartment in a teeming high-rise; otherwise, all the awe-inspiring stunts are done by real stuntmen with Tsui’s athletic camera dogging their every step and dragging the helpless audience along willy-nilly. It really does make a difference knowing that, even if the stars sat out the scene in canvas chairs while their doubles risked their necks, what we see is really being done and not just something concocted by a battalion of computer dweebs flexing their pixels.
Tsui Hark’s visual panache and breakneck energy are enough to make Time and Tide an entertaining ride, even if we don’t know where we’re going and don’t recognize most of the scenery we pass along the way. Besides, any movie that includes a scene of a woman giving birth while aiming a gun over the shoulder of the man who’s delivering her baby, ready for the bad guy to show his head long enough to get it blown off—well, any movie that will serve up a moment like that deserves credit for being willing to try anything.