Free of the dead weight known as Jean-Claude Van Damme, with whom he was saddled in two failed attempts at Hollywood hackwork, Hong Kong action director Tsui Hark reaffirms his status as a master and innovator of the genre in this cinematic thrill ride. The set pieces here are unlike anything that has graced the screen–not so much in terms of staging but in how they’re shot. When was the last time you’ve seen the camera seemingly defy all scientific laws by flying from inside the chamber of one person’s gun to the other, or seen the camera travel through an apartment that has seemingly frozen in time in mid-explosion? Exactly.
So what exactly is “Time and Tide” about? Some John Woo-style bonding between two similar men who find themselves on conflicting sides: a young bodyguard (Nicholas Tse) and an older mercenary (Wu Bai). That, the fact that both have a child on the way, and that there are some bad guys from South America running around, are about as much as anyone is likely to make out of the virtually inscrutable story. But Tsui’s bravura technique practically invites you to give up on making any narrative sense of it all and just sit back for the ride–and what a spectacular and exhilarating one it is, plot be damned.