Tyler (Nicholas Tse) likes to get philosophical, contemplating life with all its absurdities and wonders, and when you live the life he does, it's little surprise. Take the time he worked in a bar and saw an attractive woman (Candy Lo) sit down and order a drink: she was deeply unfriendly but was persuaded to get drunk with him, only to wake up the next morning in bed with her. She was furious, since she was a lesbian with a partner, and as a policewoman could make Tyler's existence a troubled one - fast forward nine months, and the question as to whether they had sex is answered, for she is just about to have a baby. What else for Tyler to do but become a bodyguard?
If that logic follows on for you with no problems, then you would likely get on very well with Time and Tide, director Tsui Hark's return to Hong Kong, albeit with the Hollywood Colombia's Far East spin-off funding the production, after he had helmed a couple of ill-received Jean-Claude Van Damme action extravaganzas. Now, those two movies, Double Team and Knock Off, though they served to derail Van Damme's big screen career, have since gone on to win cult followings, though it should be said this was down to them being regarded as camp, so-bad-they're-good genre pieces rather than down to their reassessment as works worthy of reappraisal and belated praise.
With Time and Tide it appeared Tsui had not learned his lesson, for if anything there was an even stronger sense of him doing whatever the Hell he liked and if anyone else enjoyed it, that was a bonus, as the old cliché goes. Among his most dedicated fans, who were well aware of what he was capable of and not about to dismiss him out of hand for a pair of missteps, this went down pretty well, yet for almost everyone else who gave it a try, the reaction was a resounding "Huh?!" as the finer points of the tangled plot came across as only something Tsui understood - even the cast looked to be struggling with the narrative minutiae at some stages, leaning on the action instead.
What was clear enough was this was a tale of two men protecting two pregnant women, as when Tyler signs up with former loan shark Uncle Ji (Anthony Wong) who is now in the bodyguard business, he makes a friend of one of his other employees, Jack. He was played by Asia's biggest rock star Wu Bai in a rare screen acting appearance, which at least brought in the punters curious to see how he would measure up in a traditional Hong Kong shoot 'em up. Jack has got the daughter (Cathy Tsui) of a rich business man pregnant, though they are a lot happier with this arrangement than Tyler is with his non-partner, since she doesn't want anything to do with him no matter how much he hangs around spying on her. In response, he settles into his daydreams of retiring to a picturesque Brazilian beach.
After that, it would seem a turf war erupts and Tyler is on one side, Jack on the other, but here was where the plot grew hazy as the action setpieces took over. The best of these was an attack on an apartment block which not only featured some audacious stunts but also some camerawork that without any apparent use of computer graphics prompted the viewer to ponder, how did they do that? Not to say there were no visual effects, as some dodgy overlaid explosions and infernos did tend to work against the otherwise impressive effect, but one supposed there was no way Tsui could have really blown out an apartment with an explosion Tyler only survives because he was hiding in a fridge: were George Lucas and Steven Spielberg watching and taking notes? This all wound up in an airport with the bullets flying, then the Hong Kong Coliseum during a pop concert as Jack's missis gives birth (while shooting a pistol!). It was ridiculous and only borderline coherent, but there was more than a kernel of entertainment there, like hearing a maestro improvise waywardly. Music by Kung Jun and Tommy Wai.
Hong Kong director, producer, writer and actor and one of the most important figures in modern Hong Kong cinema. Hark majored in film in the US, before returning to his homeland to work in television. Made his directing debut in 1979 with the horror thriller The Butterfly Murders, while 1983's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain was a spectacular ghost fantasy quite unlike anything in HK cinema at the time. Other key films of this period include Shanghai Blues and the brilliant Peking Opera Blues.
Believe it or not Time and Tide is among the few Tsui Hark movies I have not seen. Most HK fans (at least those that don't resent Tsui Hark for simply existing) considered this a return to form at the time after his duo of Van Damme disasters. As you say it shows Tsui at his most devil-may-care creative, which I generally like. Asian action cinema is expressionistic not realistic. Logic takes a back seat to the imagination. Few filmmakers do that better than Tsui Hark.
16 Apr 2018
It rambles about wildly, but every so often there's a scene or a shot that reminds you of Tsui's ingenuity and makes it worthwhile. But in truth it's really not that much less ludicrous than the Van Dammes. Maybe he had to get that out of his system.