Running Out of Time 2 (2001)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-12-06
In the excellent original movie for which this is a sequel, Andy Lau actually was running out of time—he had or thought he had (or we thought he had) a disease that would kill him in a few weeks. As a master criminal who wanted one last big score and also win the ultimate round with his nemesis Inspector Ho he had to accomplish things quickly. While farfetched it served as a reason to suspend disbelief as Lau led Lau Ching Wan and his squad on a merry chase through the streets and offices of Hong Kong, scattering red herrings as he went.

The first big problem with the sequel (other than it has no life of its own and is completely derivative of the original) is that the deadline is essentially meaningless. Instead of a matter of life and death the target date is set by the success or failure of a business merger. While important, a stock swap between insurance companies has a lot less resonance than the imminent death of one of the protagonists —and, of course, a deal can always be postponed where one’s appointment in Samara is fixed—at least in the movies.

And while it is unfair to criticize Ekin Cheng for not being Andy Lau—what the hell, Ekin is no Andy Lau. His smirking smaryness begins to wear on one very early in the film. He isn’t able to get the audience on his side—his Thief comes across as a lightweight, able to fool the police time and again due less to his cunning than to their incredible incompetence. The Thief can do an amazing number of stunts—string a wire between two buildings and walk across it, set up a stadium sized magic show in an empty arena, train a bald eagle to be his sidekick—but he remains an empty suit.

Lau Ching Wan is as talented as any male actor working in film today and we can be thankful for the Hong Kong system of keeping hot properties in front of the camera almost continuously. He has appeared in twenty films since the original “Running Out of Time” in 1999 which might be more than a decade’s work for his peers like Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Daniel Autiel or Russell Crowe. We may well take his immense talent for granted—he doesn’t seem to have bad days, doesn’t phone in performances, doesn’t go out of his way to steal scenes or chew woodwork. He just continues to turn in excellent performances in starring roles—and almost makes “Running Out of Time 2” worth watching.

So the main relationship—the competition between Inspector Ho and the Thief—falls flat. The movie is partially saved by our interest in two secondary relationships—between the Thief and Inspector Ken (another perfect turn by Lam Suet) on one hand and between Inspector Ho and Theresa, the amped up, deal driven CEO, winningly played by Kelly Lin. By the way, for anyone who has been even peripherally involved with a CEO of a company during merger negotiations, the way Theresa was written and the way the character was played by Lin is somnolent compared with the real what actually happens. The meeting with her subordinates in which she listens to various difficulties they are having and then tells them that the deal has to be done and they simply have to work harder is just an indication of what goes on, This is a case of the screenwriter and director having to tone down reality in order to make it believable—and also not to turn “Running Out of Time 2” into “Wall Street—Hong Kong”.

Unfortunately, much of the action takes place during two chase sequences. Inspector Ho goes after the Thief, running through a downpour, loses sight of him several times only to be taunted into continuing the chase when the Thief reappears. It is very dull, goes on for much too long and has no real point in the narrative. It is just there. All that is remarkable about this sequence is that Lau Ching Wan keeps his collar buttoned and his tie in place during every moment of it. The other chase occurs when Inspector Ho’s squad and Theresa’s team of investment bankers unite to locate a bald eagle who accompanies The Thief. Not surprisingly the inspector and Theresa are the only ones in position to actually go after the bird. Another dull set of scenes which may have been included only for the last few seconds which show, cutely enough, the growing if unspoken attraction between Ho and Theresa.

The salvation of Inspector Ken, who is addicted to gambling and in big trouble with triad loan sharks, could have been the basis for a movie in itself. Even though The Thief is the agent of change, forcing Ken to see that he cannot win no matter how much he plays and no matter how "logical" his system of betting is, all of our empathy and sympathy is with the forlorn Ken. Lam Suet is excellent as Ken, showing fear, bravado, confusion and satisfaction using his lumpy body and mobile face. He is almost always paired with Ekin Cheng—in one case they sit next to one another on the top of a building, in two others they are across a restaurant table from each other—and Cheng’s inability to play anyone other than himself is unfavorably contrasted with Lam’s almost casual ability to express the core of a character with a movement or a few words.

The combination of dreary chase scenes, Ekin Cheng running the emotional gamut from A to....well from A to A, a deadline which is the reason for the all the action but one that the audience doesn’t care about and barely notices and a trite, shopworn climax makes “Running Out of Time 2” a movie that there is little reason to watch.
Reviewer Score: 3