Artists Of The Year

From escapist entertainment to aesthetic ecstasy: Twenty-nine writers script valentines to twelve months of culture

Then, at September's Toronto International Film Festival, two spectacular action films from Hong Kong roiled audiences. Tsui Hark, a charter member of the Hong Kong New Wave, sent over Time and Tide, a blistering shoot-'em-up-down-and-sideways film about a Hong Kong exile who returns home with an international gang of murderous stickup artists on his tail. And Johnnie To, another Hong Kong veteran (Heroic Trio), presented The Mission, a formally brilliant saga of bodyguards trying to protect a Hong Kong underworld godfather marked for death. Tsui's movies--even the period Chinese Ghost Story and Swordsman series, which he produced and/or directed--are always about a modern Chinese predicament, in this case, his own. While everyone was waiting for the mainland government to impose suffocating political controls on Hong Kong films after the 1997 handover, the industry went belly-up due to economic forces. Tsui joined the ensuing general exile and landed in Hollywood, where he directed the horrible Jean-Claude Van Damme in 1998's Knock Off. (Directing Van Damme is a trial by fire for Hong Kong directors seeking to break into Hollywood: John Woo did it in 1993 and poor Ringo (City on Fire) Lam has done it twice).

Although Time and Tide features an exile, it's also about a man who has never left Hong Kong. Played by Taiwanese rock star Nicholas Tse, Tyler is a young, handsome ne'er-do-well who ends up working for a bodyguard service after one of his one-night stands ends in a pregnancy. So inept that no one will let him carry a gun, he buys a toy one as a substitute and plans on escaping to South America. That's when he runs into Jack (Wu Bai), a cold-blooded mercenary whose former cohorts think he has absconded with some stolen gold.

Those familiar with Tsui's films will rec

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