Running Out Of Time 2 (2001)

Directed by: Johnnie To & Law Wing-Cheong
Written by: Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee & Milkyway Creative Team
Producer: Johnnie To
Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Ekin Cheng, Kelly Lin, Hui Siu-Hung, Ding Yuin-Shan & Lam Suet

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2002:
Film Of Merit

Awards at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2002:
Best Action Choreography (Bruce Mang)
Best Editing (Law Wing-Cheong & Yau Chi-Lai)

Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2002:
Best Cinematography (Cheng Siu-Keung)
Best Visual Effects (Steven Ma)
Best Sound Effects (Martin Chappell)

A high profile insurance company are on the brink of closing a big merger but with 3 valuable artifacts stolen and ransom money being requested by a cunning thief (Ekin Cheng), head of the company Teresa (Kelly Lin) has to call in the police. Headed by Ho (Lau Ching-Wan), he's once again drawn into a cleverly orchestrated game courtesy of the thief...

Milkyway has always taken care of its own, by acknowledging them officially and unofficially but at the helm you almost always find Johnnie To. Officially and unofficially. For the sequel to their hit and certified "own" film Running Out of Time, in-house editor, assistant director, executive director and by now sole director (2 Become 1), Law Wing-Cheong sat in besides grandmaster To but truthfully, Law's stamp isn't felt from that position on this production. Certainly a professional movie on all accounts, editing remains solid so Law certainly didn't waste his skills either. Being brought forth to the spotlight, even if in name only, represents a sign of Johnnie To feeling he deserves the honour of being grandmaster but that sometimes other people need a push in their strife towards expression.

Regardless, the always important question and the one I'm always curious about when approaching yet another of To's "real" films is how is he going to conduct himself. Running Out Of Time was a combo of commercial sensibilities the Milkyway way, a milestone therefore, and the sequel goes very much the same routes. Gleefully I might add but it's an entry that earns its place. Even a third time would not be a stretch! Rather than letting someone else xerox his work, To does that himself, using much of the same bombastic Raymond Wong score, elements of absurd humour and bonding between the cat and the mouse game players. While the prospect of teaming leads Lau Ching-Wan and Ekin Cheng never meant equal audience success, Running Out Of Time 2 is one entertaining re-thread containing dependency the To-way. I like it that way.

Initially threatening with English dialogue for extensive periods of time for no apparent reason (*cough*Fulltime Killer*cough*), the business world of Teresa's is structured around that and while elaborating on it very little, To gets acceptance for this choice eventually. Settling soon in the same shoes as the first movie, it's again a movie world we're into here, not the real one. But cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung doesn't dress the urban landscape in a fantasy manner. He is however attractively mobile with his camera, capturing coolness in and around the leads but more importantly, the coolness IN the leads. Director To (and Law) does use tension to make us a bit unsure of whether or not this will be much along the same lines as when Andy Lau was part of the equation and it wouldn't have been unwelcome to change tac of course. But creatively high even when replicating himself, the recipe clearly is up for usage again to almost the same cool, immersing effect.

Being playful is one of the added weaknesses for Running Out Of Time 2 though. Hui Siu-Hung elevated the first film with appropriate outbursts of buffoon-behaviour as the fellow officer of Lau's but here he's let loose way too often and way too extremely, creating some high annoyance not even fit for this cinematic world. The Lam Suet sub-tangent is trademark To however as he's a down on his luck negotiator in many regards but one who receives a subtle awakening through his coin flipping game with Cheng's character. Or so the direction says because the coda to his character rhymes less well with even To-logic nor does the presence of Kelly Lin. Flat is being nice about it but she does get to take part in a wonderfully emotional/quirky beat concerning her inability to distinguish left from right. A scene showing To at his playful best, breaking cinematic rules that usually says one-note mood throughline is a must. But that defiance was a fact ages ago and still is thankfully.

The centerpiece to it all, and another reason why Running Out Of Time 2 overall fares very well is Lau Ching-Wan and Ekin Cheng's duel to the....whatever the Milkyway team feels it symbolizes. Death would be too expected coming from them and when saying that, they're not making up cool cinema for the sake of it either. All the way through the game between Ho and the thief, there's an insane amount of trademark looseness if you will that gives way for scenario after scenario that doesn't resemble anything you would find in your reality based urban setting. Because this was never To's intention anyway with the first film. Hence little character-setup's. You have 90 minutes, and that's where they're going to so call exist. Therefore Ching-Wan's cool charisma is a terrific brick in the framework, a character who is never in danger ever. Just someone who has to deal with incompetent surroundings and reality outside of cinema intruding in a not so welcome way via a lame attempt at subtle romance. We don't need it. Just pit Lau against charismatic "bad guys" with some form of payoff for their actions and you could have a franchise easily. For the second attempt, they could've sunken it however via the casting of Ekin Cheng but he's steered towards utilizing a previously untapped charismatic vein and is simply electric at all times.

By the end creating coolness that really takes Running Out of Time 2 out to space and back, Johnnie To still scores for pretty much the same reasons he did with his first team-up of the series. There's other elements in the long run that doesn't get as riveting pay off's as previous creative highs in the flick have indicated but we'll allow a niggle, even several because if you were gladly lost in the cinematic world of Running Out Of Time, you're bound to be again. I'll stand in line for a third time again as well.

The DVD:

Although the back cover says letterbox, the film is in fact presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. A few instances of print damage doesn't disrupt a fine presentation in terms of sharpness and colour.

Audio options are Cantonese/English Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese/English DTS 5.1 and Mandarin/English Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.

The English subtitles are generally error free, flows well but a small complaint is that the spoken English doesn't always match the written subtitles. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras are limited to standard inclusions. This time around they are Mei Ah's Databank (you know the drill, cast & crew listing, plot synopsis...usual nothing) and a 5 minute, 44 second Making Of. Merely focusing on interviewing actors Lau Ching-Wan and Ekin Cheng, they might give some insight into their work but without an English translation, I wouldn't know. Slight behind the scenes footage reveals a little about the creation of the bike chase scene but it's all very minute.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson