These two highly unusual and cleverly constructed action thrillers by acclaimed director Johnnie To turned out to be huge box office hits in Hong Kong upon their theatrical release. Now available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK (and with an impressive 2K restoration at that) fans of Hong Kong action cinema can see for themselves as to why RUNNING OUT OF TIME and its sequel proved to be such massive successes!

RUNNING OUT OF TIME (1999) stars Andy Lau as Cheung Wah, a young man diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only four weeks to live by his doctor. The scene then shifts to a bank robbery standoff complete with a hostage situation. As one of the robbers makes his demands while the building is surrounded by police and snipers, any positive outcome is compromised thanks to the ineptitude of eternally bungling Chief Inspector Wong Kai-Fat (Benz Hui) who brings to mind Inspector Clouseau. At the other end of the spectrum is no-nonsense Inspector Ho Sheung-Sang (Lau Ching-Wan) who is also a rather fearless expert negotiator. Entering the bank he tries to negotiate a satisfying outcome, mainly focusing on saving the hostages lives after one robber has already shot one hostage dead. Suddenly and in an unexpected turn of events, one of the hostages shoots the robbers dead. However, it is then that Ho comes to realise that said hostage is in fact the mastermind behind the robbery while pointing out to the man that he won’t be able to escape no matter what, before making his exit. Outside, Ho and Inspector Wong hear a shot and realise that the robber has committed suicide. Reading Ho the riot act for not following protocol (an on-going and humorous issue throughout the film) Wong demands an explanation as to what went on inside the bank. Ho, however, only shrugs his shoulders and tells his boss that he’s hungry and he’s off for some grub.

After hearing about the incident at the bank, Cheung decides it’s about time to get in touch with negotiator Ho. In order to achieve this he stages his own robbery at the premises of a finance company before descending onto the roof of the high-rise building, with the stolen money of course. Will he jump? Won’t he jump? And if he’d jump then why bother stealing serious money first? Oh yes, where is the stolen money? When Ho arrives in order to negotiate with Cheung he explains that he intends on playing a 72-hours long game while Inspector Wong and his team are cowering in a corner… because Cheung threatens to blow everyone up with a bomb! Only Ho doesn’t fall for it and insists Cheung is bluffing while his boss becomes ever more hysterical – when the ‘bomb’ finally goes off it’s nothing more than red paint splashed all over the gaff including Wong’s face. As he and negotiator Ho bicker about who was right all along Cheung makes his escape – despite Ho hot on his heels Cheung is always one step ahead. The situation is made even more baffling because neither Ho nor his colleagues have the slightest idea as to why Cheung wants to play a cat-and-mouse game. The plot finally thickens when a particularly nasty individual by the nickname of ‘Baldy’ (Waise Lee) arrives onto the scene, involving the theft of a priceless diamond. It emerges that Baldy is responsible for the death of Cheung’s father and now he wants to avenge his dad – although due to his cancer he’s running out of time (hence the film’s title). As things get ever more complex, Ho never loses his cool but even he isn’t prepared for the sheer audacity of Cheung and the length he will go to see justice done – fooling everyone along the way! To give the surprise ending and the final twist away would only spoil things – let’s just say Cheung evades arrest, then again, he’s dying anyway… This film is one hell of a cleverly constructed thrill-ride and for his portrayal as the terminally ill Cheung, Andy Lau won his first ‘Hong Kong Film Award’ in the ‘Best Actor’ category.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME 2 (2001) once again features Lau Ching-Wan as long-suffering negotiator/ Inspector Ho Sheung-Sang - forever at loggerheads with his bumbling boss Inspector Wong (Benz Hui). Some other characters from the first film re-appear here as well, in particular Lam Suet as dogsbody/police officer Ken who gets a regular beating from various individuals due to his gambling debts. This time round Inspector Ho finds himself confronted with a thief with no name (Ekin Cheng) who’s not only boxing clever but happens to be an illusionist! For our thief time isn’t running out due to any illness or other reasons, he merely wants to play a game with Ho and at the start of the film we find ourselves on a familiar looking rooftop again after a brief prologue scene explains that said thief plans to extort millions from an insurance company managed by a young woman called Teresa (Kelly Lin). But why does the thief wish to extort 20 Million from the company and why does he want to play games with Ho? After a tense opening on the rooftop during which he flips coins with the unfortunate Ken, negotiator Ho is called in. This is quite a different cat-and-mouse game from the first instalment for here, the Thief masterfully uses his skills as a magician to stage one bluff after another. Not wishing to be outdone, Ho has the idea to double-cross him when the takeover of the money is arranged but has to learn the hard way that it’s not easy to outdo a thief with a penchant for stage illusions and who has a rare eagle for a pet… The action sequences here are more daring and prolonged and we even see the Thief balancing on a rope from one high-rise building to the opposite one. We get to see more locations as well and would you believe it that there are ‘Mr. Softee’ ice cream vans on the streets of Hong Kong? Well, at least they were in 2001. Of course, there is an unexpected twist here too, just as negotiator Ho continues to anger his boss by driving off to grab a bite to eat during the most impossible situations…

Bonus Material includes audio commentaries, optional English subtitles, archival interviews, the 51-min documentary ‘Hong Kong’ stories, the director’s ‘Overview of Carbon and Courtiaud’ featurette, trailers, plus Collector’s booklet. The first 2000 copies are presented in a Limited Edition O-card Slipcase.