Hark Tsui triple-feature! His third film, Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind, is an angry movie that feels young and right at home alongside other politically-fraught new waves. Three young pyromaniacs meet a nihilistic young woman, Pearl (Chen-Chi Lin), who takes their explosive exploration to new extremes.
Some SPOILERS below.
The best things about Dangerous Encounters are the energetic camera, fresh performances, and location work. I love this shot where Pearl talks to a local gang leader. The foreground and background have such texture and there’s a real young, carefree (or careless) atmosphere, which permeates the entire movie:
Here’s a look at that camera. We start in this low angle before the sun is eclipsed by a soccer ball, which motivates us over, camera left, revealing the space:
Cut underneath the gang leader. The camera tracks slickly below him, the sun flares the lens:
He looks up as we reach a horizontal. Cut to two wides, bringing us to Pearl. They’re well-composed and isolating:
I love thinking of how to get into spaces, and here Tsui prioritizes the heat and laziness of the day – there’s real mood there. Tsui plays strong verticals turning to horizontals: the telephone pole is interrupted by the horizontal movement of the ball; the bench tracks vertical to horizontal. Even the first wide plays as far more vertical than the second, which spreads the frame length-wise. It all gives this tilted, off-kilter feeling.
There’s also a clear youth emphasis. These guys, just hanging around on this court with nothing to do are dangerous? That turns into something much realer at the end, where violence escalates and Tsui turns to documentary images of the 1967 Hong Kong riots:
It’s all rather cynical and you can see why this film would’ve caused a stir. It’s like Cruel Story of Youth, inverted, but with a similarly pessimistic attitude.
All The Wrong Clues For The Right Solution
The English title of Tsui’s 1981 film is a mouthful. The film is a light play on the caper/spy genre. It’s maybe too light at times – much of the first act is too ludicrous and low-budget (these locations look like they were hastily built minutes before the camera rolled) for the jokes to land, but it finds its footing in a strong last act, especially with some memorable gags.
Does the plot of this film matter? I don’t think so. Capone (Karl Maka) is recently released from prison and he wreaks havoc as Inspector Chief Robin (Teddy Robin Kwan) hunts him down. Tsui has a lot of fun with Capone’s baldness – it envelopes the movie:
I like All The Wrong Clues for the sheer amount of experimentation. There is so much different technique in here. It’s pretty over-stuffed, but at the same time you can feel a young director bursting with ideas and finding a cheap and easy vehicle to put them in.
There’s a lot of cleverness, too. Like Capone’s attempted escape where he falls from his car in midair…right into a jail cell:
You really get the sense that Tsui wanted to avoid traditional transitions and figure out a way to make this as madcap as possible.
The best sequence in the film is the warehouse shootout, where Tsui takes a few different gags and runs them as long as he can, using some great staging, cutaways, and virtuoso camera:
Gag two begins at 0:53 and unfolds like reverse dominoes. In fact, some of the movement makes it seem like it is in reverse, though it’s just sped up to hit said madcapness. The joke hits part three at 1:27 and now it becomes something like a challenge: how long can Tsui keep this up? He gets this one pitch-perfect, ending on that drop of sweat down Capone’s bald head (playing the running gag from the entirety of the film in small-scale here) and using tricky off-screen audio.
Time and Tide
What is Time and Tide about? I guess I get I ostensibly get it, but how do these characters know one-another? Where does too-cool Jack (Wu Bai) come from? The plot is murky, though solvable – but Time and Tide is more about style than narrative. Seems like a theme for some of the Hark films, and that’s fair enough when you’ve got technique for days.
Like this sequence:
That’s shot-reverse vertigo shots at 0:15, with another at 0:29, crosscut with a skateboard POV. Or the frantic handheld at 1:21. Tsui is so good at going between really energetic (1:41 push into the outside of the locked door) and fairly calm (static bad guys in this clip). It makes for something like a tornado of action within, and the calm without.
There’s a lot of comedy in Time and Tide. I liked this pregnancy sequence.
Which is also an action sequence with hilarious dialogue:
It’s well set up and nicely staged. There are stylish ECUs-
-big set pieces with a pretty silly villain-
-and in the midst of it all, something like a quirky Chungking Express love story and yearning for domesticity:
Time and Tide never really slows down, and that’s its charm. It moves from quasi-romance to bodyguard comedy to buddy film to drug-ring action film, but in the blink of an eye, and with little regard for stopping to breathe. You kind of like the woeful, overmatched Tyler (Nicholas Tse) by the end, not really because he’s been so carefully built, but because he seems to have been thrown into every world possible.