Time And Tide

Time And Tide (2000)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Nicolas Tse, Wu Bai, Anthony Wong
Extras: Commentary Track, Trailers, Filmographies

Tsui Hark is surely one of the finest directors to come out of the frenetic world of Hong Kong cinema. While his foray into Hollywood action films toward the end of the 1990s met with the same grisly fate as most Jean-Claude Van Damme star vehicles, the year 2000 saw Tsui Hark return to his roots and the result is the over-the-top actioneer, "Time and Tide."

Trying to explain the plotline of a Hong Kong film is difficult in any case but trying to do so without making the movie sound ridiculous to those unfamiliar with the genre is next to impossible. Please keep an open mind while digesting what follows and believe me, in the end the plot is a mere vehicle used to propel the non-stop action from scene to scene and shouldn’t be examined with any great attention to detail or believability.

Tyler (Nicholas Tse) is a bartender who impregnates a lesbian policewoman, Ah Jo (Cathy Tsui), during an alcohol-fueled one-night-stand. Trying to do what is right, he’s stopped at every turn by the woman who now wants nothing to do with him. Determined to provide for his unborn child, the restless Tyler hooks up with Uncle Ji’s (Anthony Wong) bodyguard service to score some quick cash.

During one assignment, Tyler stumbles upon Jack (Wu Bai), a disillusioned former mercenary married to the daughter of his old team’s intended assassination target. Jack’s wife, Ah Hui (Candy Lo) is also pregnant and, when the old gang comes to Hong Kong to take out their former partner, Tyler steps in to protect the lady and her unborn child while Jack sets out to destroy his one time comrades in arms.

Got all that straight? No? Well, good. "Time and Tide" is an action film in the truest sense of the word and the plot is there only to provide a backdrop for Tsui Hark’s imaginative and technically superb action sequences. Some wire work ala "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is employed, as is some CGI used primarily for pyrotechnical effects, but the vast majority of the action is good old fashioned stunt choreography accompanied by Tsui Hark’s very active and unusual camerawork. The end result is a film that manages to bring some fresh ideas and a new look to what was fast becoming a very stale genre.

The cast is quite experienced and they tackle the story seriously enough that viewers should have no problem accepting the admittedly bizarre goings-on. Nicholas Tse and Wu Bai provide very strong performances but they are almost upstaged by the two female leads who lend both comic and tragic aspects to the tale. The rest of the cast are the usual motley assortment of Hong Kong regulars who, while not quite able to deliver their lines with any great conviction, can still take a fall out a window like nobody’s business.

"Time in Tide" is presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is framed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The use of color is of primary importance in this film and the diverse palette is used to great effect to set the mood — much in the same way that a musical score is used in a typical movie to give the audience emotional cues. As a result, colors are manipulated at will and can change radically from very subdued hues to an over-saturated, garish appearance — often within the same scene. Much of the buzz about "Time and Tide" centers on its very intense cinematography and Tsui Hark’s unique use of color is a primary component of that art.

Black levels are usually solid but some scenes do tend to look a little washed out. There is also a fine degree of film grain evident throughout and I can’t say for sure whether or not this was an intentional decision on the director’s part but I’m willing give him the benefit of the doubt. The source elements are free of physical defects and the overall image is nice and sharp. A bit of edge enhancement is noticeable in a few scenes but, on the whole, the video transfer looks very good for a Hong Kong film.

Audio comes in both the original Cantonese as well as dubbed English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 and <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. The dialogue itself is a blend of English, Cantonese, and even Spanish so just stick with the original soundtrack as the English dub just gets confusing. The 5.1 track is, in a word, incredible. Dynamic range is great with deep bass as well as even the subtlest atmospheric effects coming across strong. The LFE effects are frequent and powerful and the subwoofer remains quite active from beginning to end. Surrounds are used to great effect but never seem out of place or forced. The musical score is well-balanced as well and never overpowers the dialogue or sound effects. This is one of the most immersive audio experiences I’ve heard in quite some time and "Time and Tide" now ranks near the top of my favorite audio demo discs.

The primary bonus feature on the DVD is a running commentary with director Tsui Hark. I was looking forward to hearing the man speak and this track doesn’t disappoint. His English is very understandable as he delves into all the minute details of the many action sequences and he talks almost non-stop from beginning to end.

Also included on the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer as well as trailers for "Once Upon a Time in China," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and "Miracles." Rounding out the extras are filmographies for Tsui Hark and Nicholas Tse (oddly enough, the image shown on Tse’s page is that of Wu Bai).

Fans of Hong Kong action films will likely already have their copies of "Time and Tide" firmly in hand but I would encourage those new to the genre to take a chance on one of the most outlandish and exciting films of last year. Columbia TriStar has delivered the goods on this DVD by offering up a fine <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer, an incredible soundtrack (offered in the original Cantonese as well as an English dub — are you listening Disney?), and even a few decent bonus features.

Don’t try to dissect the film, just sit back, crank up the sound, and enjoy a wholly visceral cinematic experience. "Time and Tide" is highly recommended.