Hong Kong Cinema

Running Out of Time

  • Made: 1999
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: Region 2 PAL
  • Release Date: 19 Sep 2005
  • Company: Tai Seng UK
  • Length: 93 minutes
  • Picture: Anamorphic 16:9 Widescreen
  • Sound: DD5.1 / DD2.0
  • Language: Cantonese with Subtitles
  • Extras: TBC
  • Classification: TBC


Johnnie To


Andy Lau, Lau Ching Wan, Yoyo Mong, Waise Lee, Hui Sui-Hung, Lam Suet, Ruby Wong

Running Out of Time is an early runner for the excellent Infernal Affairs series that has gained worldwide acclaim and recognition in the last few years. Running Out of Time will stand as one of Johnnie To's landmark works, achieving a top ten performance at the 1999 Hong Kong Box office (HK $14.5m), spawning a sequel two years later and receiving 5 nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Johnnie has worked with many of the leading lights in modern Hong Kong cinema and his films after Running Out of Time have continued to attract numerous awards and acclaim (Fulltime Killer, PTU, The Mission).

Much of the film's success can be linked to the dynamic partnership at the heart of the film. Lau Ching-Wan (Full Alert, Black Mask) and HK heart-throb Andy Lau (Saviour of the Soul, Infernal Affairs, House of Flying Daggers) go head to head in this urban thriller. The capable support is delivered by a solid cast and decent productions values. This is also an early script from the HK based French duo Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, who have since worked on Black Mask 2 and The Touch.


If you are dying of cancer and need to avenge your father's death, you can go and kill / rob / blow up your enemies or engineer an elaborate cat and mouse game that also involves a healthy participation from the Hong Kong police. Andy Lau (Cheung) decides to go for the latter. He has triad bad boy Waise Lee and his multi-million dollar diamonds in his sights. However, the game of cat and mouse is actually between Cheung and Inspector Ho (Lau Ching-Wan). Ho is the top negotiator with hostage takers, but he soon realises he is little more than a pawn in Cheung's increasingly perilous game. Cheung also befriends the 'easy-on-the-eye' Yoyo Mong, but has to confront his final move as his time really starts to slip away.


This film lacks any great pyrotechnics or slow motion shots of people flying sideways with twin revolvers blazing. This largely explains the reason why it became such as success. By the end of the nineties, it simply wasn't enough to imitate the bullet ballets of John Woo / Ringo Lam. Johnnie To tries for something completely different, the body count was replaced by suspense and intrigue. Cheung tries to keep one step ahead of both Inspector Ho and the audience during his final days. The end result is stylish and innovative, paving the way for the recent wave of action thrillers in Hong Kong (Infernal Affairs, Jiang Hu, Colour of Truth etc).

The actual plot is not particularly original, there are various elements familiar to fans of Western and Eastern movies. The remaining John Woo theme is the link between the leads even though they are on opposite sides of the law. Morality and camaraderie transcend the narrow minded trappings of law enforcement - amusingly portrayed by Hui Sui-Hung as the bumbling Chief Inspector. With a great deal of the action taking place in one skyscraper there are a few references towards Die Hard but Johnnie To's delivery ensures that it feels fresh and inventive.


The Tai Seng UK DVD features a clear and crisp anamorphic widescreen (16:9) picture with both English mono 2.0 and Cantonses DD5.1 audio tracks. There are also removable English subtitles that are a significant improvement on the Region 3 Hong Kong disc! The disc includes the added bonus of interviews with the scriptwriters: Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud plus an audio commentary. There is also a Director's Overview featurette and a set of trailers. An impressive disc that definitely justifiies looking beyond the Hong Kong import.


A fine performance by crew and cast, Running Out of Time will be remembered as an earlier pioneer for a complete change in direction for Hong Kong action cinema. Andy Lau was rightly awarded Best Actor for his performance here, but the whole crew should take a bow for delivering such a composed work. There are a few plot holes and mediocre subtitles, but the film is strong enough to go beyond these minor issues and deliver a slick and original slice of Hong Kong action.