Running Out of Time 01:02

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Synopsis

Acclaimed director Johnnie To (The Heroic Trio, The Mission) is on top form with slam bang action-thriller Running Out of Time and its equally electrifying sequel.

Expert hostage negotiator Ho Sheung-sang (Lau Ching-wan, Black Mask, Mad Detective) is drawn into a psychological game of cat-and-mouse when a criminal mastermind with weeks to live (Andy Lau, Infernal Affairs, House of Flying Daggers) decides to take on the entire Hong Kong Police Force. There’s more to his plan than meets the eye, but can Inspector Ho figure it out and catch him in time? He’s got 72 hours to try.

A huge box office hit, Running Out of Time swept the 19th Hong Kong Film Awards and spawned a popular sequel in Running Out of Time 2, in which Lau Ching-wan returns as Inspector Ho - this time in pursuit of a sophisticated art thief with a taste for drama and theatrical flair.

Picture 8/10

Arrow Video presents Johnnie To’s Running Out of Time and Running Out of Time 2 (the latter co-directed by Law Wing-cheong) in a new 2-disc set with both presentations sourced from new 2K restorations. Each film is presented via a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode on its own individual dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restorations were performed by Fortune Star.

Both presentations end up looking good, it's just neither stand out in any special way. Both films have gone through thorough restorations, no severe blemish or fault to be seen, and detail levels are solid enough if not especially impressive. Some scenes lack the minutiae I would have expected in a newer restoration, and this can lead to a slight fuzziness in places. It appears some minor filtering has been applied to the image leading to grain that doesn’t look as sharp as it could, and even though that could play into that slight fuzziness that is present I suspect a most of it is more inherent to the original elements.

As to any filtering that may have been applied it doesn’t impact the final image in any severe way I'm thankful to say. As I mentioned grain is still present and there’s a film texture to be seen, it’s just not as strong or clean as I would have hoped with the texture varying from shot to shot; one shot will look grainy (if a little noisy) while the next might have a waxier texture. Colours and black levels are mostly solid but on occasion, usually in dimly lit shots, the black levels can flatten and turn a bit of a murky blue crushing detail out. During its stronger moments shadows look rather good with distinguishable details, light even dispersing naturally into the dark background with no banding evident. This aspect may be a little stronger in the second film.

Minor hindrances aside the presentations for both films are pleasing, but that's about all that can really be said.

(This title was produced in collaboration with the UK label Eureka for their Masters of Cinema series, and it appears Eureka is using the exact same discs. When these discs are placed in a region A player Arrow’s branding and menus appear. When placed in a region B player the Masters of Cinema branding and menus appear.)

Audio 8/10

On top of separate Mandarin and Cantonese 5.1 surround DTS-HD MA soundtracks, each film also comes with an optional English soundtrack, the first film's track presented in lossless 1.0 PCM monaural, the second in 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround. I watched each film in Mandarin and then sampled the other tracks.

Despite recent restorations and presentations consistently proving to me otherwise (again and again and again) I still find myself anticipating the audio for 90’s/early 00’s Hong Kong films to sound flat and lifeless, all based on previous experiences with home video releases from many years (now decades) ago. I was clearly expecting the same here because I ended up being astounded at how good both the Mandarin and Cantonese soundtracks come out sounding, the Mandarin one winning with a slight edge. Spoken dialogue has a nice punch to it managing to sound fairly lifelike, not flat and tinny as I was anticipating, and the action scenes do push the volume levels without distorting. Even the Cantonese track, which I felt features the more obvious dubbing, comes off sounding the same.

The mix for both films isn’t anything I’d call special, both coming off about what I would expect for most action films: dialogue is focused to the fronts while ambient noise and action is mixed to the rears, along with the occasional voice, ringing phone, and whatever else seems appropriate. Music is of course also mixed to the rears. Yet even if I can’t say it offers up any surprises it still all sounds rather good, and movement and panning between speakers sounds natural.

The English tracks end up being a little weaker, the mono track for the first film being the weakest one of all of the audio presentations. To its credit music and action still offers notable range but voices come off a bit monotone in comparison to the other tracks. The 5.1 English surround track for the second film fares better but is still noticeably weaker compared to the other two tracks. Also, the music mix sounds a bit off, maybe cutting things off too early at times. Interestingly, while the second film features a good amount of English dialogue, present in both the Mandarin and Cantonese tracks, it appears that the English dialogue was also dubbed over for this track since the accents differ. I have to assume this is how it’s usually done (actor availability and such) but this is probably the first time I really noticed it.

I give the edge to the Mandarin soundtracks for both films, but no matter which track one goes with (even the mono English track on the first film) they shouldn’t find much of anything to be disappointed by.

Extras 8/10

Arrow (and Eureka, who is handling the region B release) have thrown in a decent amount of material, though most of it was created for previous editions and there can be a slight feel of repetiveness here. Arrow has, at the very least, commissioned a new audio commentary featuring Hong Kong film expert and programmer Frank Djeng for each film. Djeng provided a track for Arrow’s edition of One-Armed Boxer, a track that I enjoyed thanks to Djeng’s enthusiasm and energy, and I was looking forward to these.

His track for the second film is easily the better of the two, at least for me, since he takes it upon himself to offer a very heartfelt defense of it. THe sequel is usually compared unfavorably to the first film by that film’s many fans. When discussing the second film he defends the story, the change of focus to luck from the first film’s focus on time, and he even defends the film’s antagonist, who goes a very different direction compared to Andy Lau’s in the first film (Lau of course has his fans and he received accolades and awards for his role, so whoever played the “villain” in the follow-up had the cards stacked against them). Djeng also offers his admiration for how characters are altered between the two films and appreciates that To is clearly having his own fun with the second outing.

His defenses and insights into individual situations and the story are all good but Djeng can feel to be padding things out a bit more this time around, and I assume it’s because he had to stretch topics between both films. There are a lot of times where he’ll throw in some random trivia that I guess could seem interesting but doesn’t end up adding a lot to the conversation. For example, right off in his track for the second film he talks about the American Bald Eagle and its significance in the States and it what it symbolizes. This comes up because Bald Eagles (including badly CGI’d ones) do show up in the film, but he doesn’t make any direct correlation between the significance of the bird in the States and its appearance in the film. The subject is randomly thrown in there because the bird shows up and then we just move on to the next topic, which can include Djeng simply reacting to what’s onscreen at that moment. That’s not to say some of this trivia isn’t interesting because some of it proves fun. For example, during his track for the first film he brings up Vitasoy when it appears in the film, leading him to talk about a controversy that occurred around the brand in Hong Kong. Does it pertain to the film much? Not really but it ends up being a more interesting factoid than others.

Filler aside, the tracks are still worthwhile and are most involving when Djeng focuses on the both films' strengths and provides contextualization around their stories, characters, and why certain events play out the way they do. The ending for the first film is ambiguous, he explains, because of how Hong Kong audiences would react if the ending spelled out what happened to the film’s star, which in terms of the plot was inevitable anyways. I also enjoyed when he gets into how the film can be viewed following the Hong Kong handover, and how audiences would have come to the film then. He even brings up films that are clear influences, like Michael Mann’s Heat, and how elements of those films show up here. When he gets into a groove the tracks are both good, but I’d almost say a select-scene commentary for each film may have worked better.

From there on the supplements are geared more towards the first film and found on its respective disc. For the first film Arrow ports over the audio commentary created for Tai Seng’s DVD (as a sidenote, Djeng previously worked in marketing for that company) moderated by Stefan Hammond and featuring the film’s writers Laurent Courtiaud and Julien Carbon. Courtiaud and Carbon end up receiving most of the focus (though not all) within the remaining features in this set, and for my taste maybe too much since it is in this area where the features end up feeling a little repetitive. Having said that I was surprised by how much I ended up liking their commentary. The two share quite a bit around the film’s story and characters, influenced by films like Heat and even Wong Kar-wai, and they share anecdotes around its production and filming. It’s all quite good but the conversation picks up when the two talk about the film business in Hong Kong differs in comparison to other regions and also explain how the script morphed from its original draft. I wasn’t too surprised to learn that the original script was significantly darker, Lau’s character being more of a clear-cut villain in comparison to what he would be onscreen, but I liked that the two explain how and why this ended up changing (some of it has to do with translating between languages). This then leads to conversations around their experiences elsewhere in the Hong Kong film industry and what they learned about the expectations of Hong Kong audiences. It all proves to be incredibly fascinating and, thanks to Hammond’s moderating, moves at a good beat.

The commentary would have been good enough when it came to writing the film but (in what I assume is being done in the name of saving content for posterity) Arrow ports over features around the writing duo from prior DVD editions. This includes two archival interviews, one from 2003 and created for a French DVD edition (running around 22-minutes), and another in 2005 for a Tai Seng DVD edition (running around 37-minutes). Each interview has a different focus, the 2003 one focusing on the script and how it was altered, the other a general discussion around Hong Kong cinema. A lot of the material within these two programs does get covered in the commentary but the two do get a little more into how they first became exposed to films from Hong Kong and do bring up their favourite films and filmmakers.

The first disc then features an 8-minute featurette simply called Director’s Overview of Carbon and Courtiaud, which is also a featurette on the writers but instead offers interviews from third parties including Tsui Hark, Wong Kar-wai, Lau Ching-wan, Daniel Lee, and Michelle Yeoh. Still, this short feature ends up proving to be a little pointless because all of these interviews are in actuality excerpts from a longer documentary covering Carbon and Courtiard’s experiences in Hong Kong, , entitled Hong Kong Stories and running 50-minutes. This feature is found on the second disc with the second film. This is then where things felt to get especially repetitive because we end up hearing some of the same stories from (and about) the writers that we’ve heard in some of the other features in the set, and that includes the exact same interviews from the 8-minute Director’s Overview. Hark’s comments prove meaningful since he explains why, despite the cultural differences, the two writers end up being a perfect fit in the industry (a love of comic books helps), and I also like when Couritaud and Carbon explain how real-life events, especially related to crime, end up influencing the films coming out of the region. Outside of that I felt like I had been down this road already a few times.

Thankfully there is other archival material that features other members of the cast and crew of the first film, all made for previous DVD editions. A 12-minute interview from 2003 with director Johnnie To overseen by Courtiaud and Carbon starts these off. It’s disappointingly brief but he summarizes the state of the Hong Kong film industry at the time, which was suffering from a downturn in the economy, and how that effected getting the first film made. This is then followed by a lengthier 25-minute interview—also from 2003—with the star of both films, Lau Ching-wan. There is a focus on these two films (and to my surprise Lau seems to like the second one a little more) but the conversation goes into some of his other work with a mention that maybe one day he would like to direct. The discussion gets quite amusing, though, when he shares his very brutal and honest opinion on the state of the Hong Kong film industry, at least for that period time.

One of the better archival interviews to be found here is a 2003 one with composer Raymond Wong, conducted while the poor man is trying to eat lunch. He starts off the 27-minute segment talking about his background and how he accidentally fell into music (it sounds like he was initially working in the tech industry) before getting into some of his scores, including the ones for these films. The last portion of his interview then focuses on how scores are seen as not being particularly important to films there, so when it came time to do the score for Shaolin Soccer he had to fight with the editors and mixers to get his score to the level he intended. This ends up being a rather interesting insight into an area of Hong Kong cinema I see very little discussion about.

(As a note, a lot of these features were all made for DVD editions released outside of North America. Arrow makes a note that the videos were sent to them with burned-in subtitles. To make room for their new English subtitle translations they had to blur out the original subtitles, meaning the bottom portion of the screen ends up looking blurry. I didn’t find this to be a distraction at all and Arrow’s new subtitles manage to cover it all up anyways.)

The first film ends up receiving a lot of attention, most of the release’s features appearing on that film's disc, while the second film manages to get the shaft. Outside of the Hong Kong Stories documentary (and the Djeng commentary) the only other significant feature on the second film’s disc, and the only significant feature on the release directly related to the film, is a 6-minute making-of featuring interviews with stars Lau Ching-wan and Ekin Cheng. It’s more promotional in nature, the two talking about their characters and story, and that’s about it. Each disc then features the trailer for their respective films, alongside small galleries presenting posters, lobby cards, and production photos. Closing the set off is a booklet featuring an essay on the two films by David West.

On the whole the content Arrow packs on here is generally fine with a lot of wonderful information around the film and the industry in Hong Kong at the time, there may just be too much focus on the writing duo behind the film.

Closing

The features could be a bit more diverse but Arrow has still assembled a lovely little package for Johnnie To’s two thrillers.

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Directed by: Johnnie To
Year: 1999 | 2001
Time: 93 | 95 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Licensor: Fortune Star
Release Date: August 30 2022
MSRP: $49.95
 
Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Regions A/B
 
 Brand new audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) for Running Out of Time   Audio commentary by writers Laurent Cortiaud and Julien Carbon, moderated by Hong Kong film expert Stefan Hammond   Archival interview with screenwriters Julien Carbon and Laurent Cortiaud   Archival interview with director Johnnie To   Archival interview with star Lau Ching Wan   Archival interview with composer Raymond Wong   The Directors’ Overview of Carbon and Courtiaud, an archive featurette   Theatrical trailer for Running Out of Time   Brand new audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) for Running Out of Time 2   The Making of 'Running Out of Time 2', an archive featurette   Hong Kong Stories, a 52-minute documentary from 2003 by director Yves Montmayeur (Johnnie Got His Gun!) about Hong Kong cinema mythology via Julien Carbon and Laurent Cortiaud’s experience as screenwriters in the HK film industry, working for Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark, Daniel Lee and of course Johnnie To   Theatrical trailer for Running Out of Time 2   Image galleries   Illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing on the films by David West