The theme song to the classic cop show Beretta declared, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” The fear of being locked up for decades keeps quite a few people from living a life of crime. What if you don’t have a fear of being sentenced to prison because you won’t live long enough to get your fingerprints and mugshot taken? That’s exactly what happens in Running Out of Time. The Hong Kong movie from 1999 became a box office hit and won awards with its intricate cat and mouse game between a dying crook and a hostage negotiator who must figure what the suspect wants. The film was such a hit it spawned a sequel. Both films are included in the Running Out of Time Collection.
Running Out of Time (1999 – 93 minutes) starts as Cheung Wah (Infernal Affairs‘ Andy Lau) learns his life is coming to an end after a cancer diagnosis. His time is ticking away. He witnesses Inspector Ho Sheung Sang (My Left Eye Sees Ghosts‘ Lau Ching-wan) masterfully put an end to a bank robbery and becomes obsessed with the guy. Whah stages his own bank robbery and when Ho shows up, he offers him a chance to play a game over the next three days. Ho isn’t there for games, but quickly he finds himself caught up chasing Whah around town. Whah is willing to disguise himself as he executes his elaborate crime spree that involves heisting a diamond from a mobster. He seems like he’s going to fool the police force, but is he going to live long enough to pull it all off. The movie won the Hong Kong Film Award for Lau’s cunning performance.
Running Out of Time 2 (2001 – 96:08) mixes things up by not having Inspector Ho Sheung Sang (Lau Ching-wan) chase down another dying man. This time he finds himself challenged by a stranger (A Man Called Hero‘s Ekin Cheng) who might be a magician gone bad. The guy also has a pet bald eagle. When the cops find him on top of a building, he takes advantage of a cop with a severe gambling addiction who can’t stop betting on a flip of a coin that keeps going against the odds. Ho finds himself the only person that can handle the magician, but he can’t figure the out what the mysterious man wants. Before Ho can cuff the guy, he pulls out a dramatic vanishing act. The focus of the magician’s crime is a company run by Teresa (Devil Face, Angel Heart‘s Kelly Lin). Lau Ching-wan keeps the action from getting to Vegas magician stunts. His frustrations with Superintendent Wong Kai-fat (The Hong Kong Happy Man‘s Hui Shiu-hung) occupy him as much as his pursuit of the magician.
Running Out of Time Collection is a fine double feature of Hong Kong cop action. Director Johnnie To keeps the action pumping from the top of the skyscrapers to the roads of Hong Kong. The first film is vastly superior because of the immediacy of Andy Lau’s performance. You really question if he’s going to finish his great caper as he spits up blood and struggles to stay alive for a few more hours. The second film is more fun and flightly. There’s not the same level of concern since the magician is pulling off odd tricks on the cops. It would have served the film better if they had a different title so that you didn’t sense that Inspector Ho Sheung Sang had another ticking clock case. You won’t run out of time if you watch both films back to back when you pick up The Running Out of Time Collectio
Video for both films is 1.85:1 anamorphic. Both movies were scanned in 2K and bring out the details of Hong Kong. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 in both Cantonese and Mandarin. There’s also an English dub that’s in Mono on first film and 5.1 on the second. The movies are subtitled in English so you can pick your track. Cantonese seems the best option.
DISC 1 – RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) points out the film was titled Hidden War in Hong Kong. He talks about the awards won by the film. He gets into how two French writers ended up on the script.
Audio commentary by writers Laurent Cortiaud and Julien Carbon, moderated by Hong Kong film expert Stefan Hammond. The French writers speak English on the track as they relate their career in Hong Kong and what they brought to the script.
Archival interviews with screenwriters Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud have them talking in 2003 (21:57) and 2005 (37:09). They had done a few skits for Tsui Hark when the duo wanted to go for a feature film. They gave Johnnie To a treatment for a script, but it was a film that wasn’t made. But Johnnie To had come up with Running Out of Time and wanted them to write the script based on the storyline. The first interview is for the French DVD. They speak French on screen. The second interview was for a UK DVD release. They speak in English.
Archival interview with director Johnnie To (11:43) was for French DVD in 2003. They had to blur the French burned in subtitles to replace with English subtitles. The director talks about working with French writers.
Archival interview with star Lau Ching-wan (25:19) is from 2003 French DVD. He talks about how Andy Lau was already attached when he was invited to play the cop role. He talks of the strange chemistry he has with Lau.
Archival interview with composer Raymond Wong (27:24) is from 2003. He was born in Hong Kong but moved to Canada. he moved back after college. He returned to work at Warner Music at first as an in-house record producer except another pal from Canada landed the job. His pal ended up hiring him for scoring a movie with him. This led him to working with Tsui Hark.
The Directors’ Overview of Carbon and Courtiaud (8:24) has noted directors talking about the French screenwriters. The complete film can be found on the second Blu-ray.
Theatrical trailer (2:28) sets up a 72-hour game between a criminal Andy Lau and the cops.
Image gallery has 30 posters, promotional photos and a press booklet.
DISC 2 – RUNNING OUT OF TIME 2
Audio Commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival). He shares plenty of details about the production including how it was also a box office success. He explains elements of the film and Hong Kong locations. He also gets to point out the school his sisters attended and Bruce Lee’s old neighborhood.
The Making of ‘Running Out of Time 2’ (5:46) is an archive featurette from Hong Kong. The have redone some of the burned in subtitles. We’re taken on the location. There’s talk about having to make another battle of wits that can be as entertaining as the original film. This is a game between the criminal and the cops.
Hong Kong Stories (49:45) is a documentary from 2003 by director Yves Montmayeur (Johnnie Got His Gun!). The film gets deep into Hong Kong cinema mythology via Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud. The duo worked as screenwriters in the HK film industry, working for Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark, Daniel Lee and Johnnie To. They delve into the unique difficulties in shooting around Hong Kong since it is a city that doesn’t sleep or shutdown roads for movie productions. The French duo ended up in the Hong Kong cinema world after writing about it and getting to know John Woo. The director of The Killer got them their big break via Tsui Hark. We get to visit Hark’s office. The duo wrote the script for Running Out of Time.
Theatrical trailer (2:41) sets up how Inspector Ho Sheung-sang is back with another interesting case. This time the suspect has a bald eagle.
Image gallery has thirty production photos.
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the films by David West
Arrow Video presents The Running Out of Time Collection. Directed by Johnnie To & Law Wing-cheung. Screenplay by Yau Nai-hoi, Laurent Courtiaud, Julien Carbon Starring Andy Lau, Lau Ching-wan, Ekin Cheng, Kelly Lin and Hui Shiu-hung. Boxset Contents: 2 movies on 2 Blu-rays. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: August 30, 2022.