Running Out of Time (1999)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-08-09
Summary: Excellent crime/heist drama
At first it seemed that the excellent crime drama “Running Out of Time” could have been made in Hollywood or Paris—convoluted plot with plenty of twists but not difficult to follow; attractive characters whose actions make sense within the context of the film with brilliant actors portraying those characters; terrific production values. But it also has plenty of characteristics that label it as a Hong Kong product.

There is essentially no backstory given for either of the major characters or even any reason that Andy Lau chose Lau Ching-Wan as his unwitting accomplice—although I may have missed something obvious—I often do. Their motivation is as basic and essential as can be: a thief steals even (or especially) when he has only a few days to live. A cop will try to catch a thief even (or especially) when his commanding officer hates him and tries to sabotage his work. The movie happens at the intersection of these forces.

Andy is the brilliant jewel thief; Lau is the persistent police officer. The closer the cop gets to solving what seems to be the crime—a robbery at a finance company—the more he is enmeshed in the criminal’s web. Everyone comes together—the police, the jewel thief and the crime boss (Waise Lee) who is the actual target to Andy’s plan.

In addition to Lee, the supporting cast is first rate. Lam Suet is perfect as a slightly stupid and slightly cowardly crime lieutenant. Hui Siu Hung is his counterpart with the forced of the law—a commanding officer who is as thick as a plank and who thinks that everyone—including desperate criminals—will obey him because of his rank. Yoyo Mung is a very lucky girl on a bus. Her character, who does very little and has few lines, is the final link between Andy Lau and Lau Ching-Wan. Ruby Wong is a local Interpol agent who looks great in an evening dress and has a more than professional interest in the Lau Ching-Wan’s character.

1991 was quite a year for Lau. He was astonishingly good as Manson Ma in “The Victim” and that role could not be more different than this one. In “The Victim” he was a dangerous, flamboyant and probably insane schemer whose life unravels as the movie unspools but who always has another gruesome surprise in store for his pursuers. In “Running Out of Time” he was a phlegmatic, insightful cop with flashes of brilliance but who is solidly grounded.

Andy Lau’s work looks effortless. This type of role, with no real character development or strong motivation necessary, is made for him and he wears it lightly, like a favorite sport coat. His costar has much more skill and range but with the proper role—like this one—he is the best there is.

Johnny To directs with a firm but unobtrusive hand. We see the jewel thief’s plot unfold but don’t know any more than the cops at any particular time. While there are a few extravagant touches—the scene when the thief and his hostage seem cornered on the roof of an office building for example—To obviously trusts the material enough to let the intricacies play out.

Reviewer Score: 7