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Original Title:
Aau Chin

Hong Kong 1999

Crime, Drama

Johnnie To

Andy Lau
Lau Ching-Wan
Hui Siu-hung
Ruby Wong
Yoyo Mung
Lam Suet

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Running out of Time

Story: Cheung (Andy Lau) has cancer and only a few days left to live. He enters an office building and takes a manager hostage. This whole thing just seems to be a setup to lure Inspector Ho (Lau Ching-Wan), a specialist for negotations, to the crime scene. Cheung wants to play a 72-hours game of cat and mouse with Ho and the Inspector has no other choice than to accept under these circumstances. Cheung thereafter manages in fact to make his escape. However, Ho isn't one of Hong Kong's best policeman just by reputation. Even though he still agonizes about Cheung's motive, he gets on his trail over and over again. Nonetheless, Cheung seems to have foreseen and planed every step of Ho in advance, and so he always slips through Ho's thight net.
While Cheung is running out of time, Ho finds out that he actually seems to have a greater plan. Cheung wants to take out the gangster, who is responsible for his father's death. Although Ho is still after Cheung, he slowly starts to like the "game" and an unusual, almost friendly relationship evolves between the two...

Review: "Running out of Time" is a pretty good Hong Kong cop-thriller that deals with the typical cat-and-mouse theme. Even though the main protagonist is suffering from an incurable disease, which isn't really new stuff, the movie works out pretty well because of two great actors and some clever twists. This is the more astonishing as the movie doesn't make a big deal about the fact that it's merely mainstream and also wants to reach a wider audience outside of Asia. The atmosphere and the characters all have an undeniable "international" touch, the pacing is always high and a small subtle love story is also to be found. What more could you ask for?

Andy Lau ("Infernal Affairs", "House of Flying Daggers") does give a fantastic performance as the fatally ill gangster. At first, we don't know what to think of him. The only thing we can be sure of is that he acts very professional and calculational. But when he apparently kills someone in cold blood, he instantly loses all sympathies he already might have had on his side. Yet, it doesn't take long until we discover that Cheung actually executes a well elaborated scheme, whereas at least no one of the good guys bites the dust. Lau also infuses his character with the necessary charisma and especially in the scenes where his illness comes into play he can arouse pity.
On the other side we have Lau Ching-Wan, who as a cool cop solves every case and who is in fact so good, that there is nearly nothing left to do for him anymore. Cheung is just the welcome challenge he needed.
Nevertheless, Cheung proves to be very sly and Ho has to realize that he is moving like a puppet according to Cheung's directing the whole time through. The relationship between the two is definitely the highlight of the movie. The two rivals do respect each other and when they are coerced to join forces it becomes a fun ride for the audience, naturally.

The story is surprisingly well-elaborated. There are a lot of aha-moments and some seemingly unimportant scenes gain in importance later on. So you better pay attention.
Despite its clever gangster plot the movie also doesn't miss to discreetly point out Cheung's illness every now and then, so that it doesn't fall into oblivion. "Running out of Time" has its melodramatic moments, but they are not bad at all. Especially the very subtle and subdued love story between Cheung and a mini-bus passenger, played by Yoyo Mung, is very nice. Sadly, we don't get to see more of it.
However, despite all dramatic Johnnie To's ("Election") work is a Cop-Thriller in the first place, which it luckily never loses sight of. Although, there isn't that much action in terms of shootouts, the movie always provides a tense atmosphere and catches the viewer's attention until the very end.

Somewhat of a bonus is the humour, of which there is a lot in "Running out of Time". More than anyone else, Ho's superior, almost a stereotype played by Hui Siu-Hung, is responsible for a handful of nice jokes. Additionally, there are Lam Suet in a small supporting role, of course, and Ruby Wong has a hilarious dialogue with Lau Ching-Wan, too. It's fascinating that the humour just blends in perfectly, despite the more serious and sometimes even dramatic undertone of the rest of the film.
Veteran Raymond Wong provides the fitting musical background and Johnnie To with his sense for style does give his best to make the picture look visually superior to similar movies.

However, in the end the movie is just too short and the ending isn't that surprising either. Something just seems to be missing for the movie to reach the absolute top of Hong Kong thrillers.
"Running out of Time" guarantees appealing entertainment and can win the audience over with its characters and nice twists. If you are a fan of clever Cop-Thrillers with a touch of humour and drama then you shouldn't miss this one.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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