The motto of “Running Out of Time 2” seems to be, if it ain’t broke, make another sequel just like it. Following pretty much the same narrative structure used in the original “Running Out of Time”, “ROOT 2” brings back Inspector Ho (Ching Wan Lau), the Hong Kong Sherlock Holmes, to contend with another clever thief (Ekin Cheng, whose character is nameless). This time around, the thief is determined to extort money from a high-strung businesswoman and play a few rounds of clever games with Ho in the process.
Ekin Cheng, who I will admit to not being a very big fan of despite his vast popularity in his native Hong Kong, steps into the role formerly occupied by Andy Lau in the original. (In something approaching irony, there isn’t a more prolific acting duo than Lau and Cheng, who seems to be in at least 5 Hong Kong movies in any given year.) Cheng’s thief is a showman and magician who favors smoke bombs and taking pity on lowly idiots like sad sack Suet Lam (“Devil Face, Angel Heart”), who plays a luckless cop unable to break his addiction to gambling.
Similar to the original, Cheng’s thief enters into a series of games with Ho, but unlike the original, Cheng is always one step ahead of Ho, and as a result Ho never has the upper hand until the very end. While I can buy that Cheng has planned everything to the millisecond, some of the twists in “ROOT 2” is a bit hard to swallow. Couldn’t Ho win some of the games they’re playing? While it’s obvious we’re supposed to not hate Cheng’s thief, and I’m certain we’re supposed to find him charming and incorrigible, there’s only so much of his winning that we can take. Some triumphs by the cops would have added some balance.
Another problem is that there is no real urgency to Cheng’s blackmail of Kelly Lin’s Teresa. With a potential corporate merger that can net Teresa profits in the billions, any public knowledge of her extortion can deep six the deal. This is all fine and well, but it’s not what great Race Against Time movies are made of. Obviously the filmmakers, including screenwriter Nai-Hoi Yau (who had a hand in the original), probably didn’t want to copy the original’s storyline plot by plot. Even so, I’m not sure if an uptight businesswoman’s Big Business Deal is supposed to keep the audience rooting for her as much as a man’s attempt to set things right before he dies (which was the case with the original).
In an attempt to add some urgency to Ho’s race to prevent Cheng from spoiling Teresa’s deal, the screenplay offers up a possible romance between Ho and Teresa. As the uptight businesswoman, Kelly Lin is a mirror image of Ho. They’re both driven, too wrap up in their work for a personal life, and completely determined to get things their way, all the time. The romance is there, and both Lin and Lau makes us believe that they may be falling for each other. Of course, the ending pretty much declares this subplot to be moot, not to mention rather cruel.
Besides Ching Wan Lau as Ho, “ROOT 2” also brings back Shiu Hung Hui as Wong Kai Fa, the bumbling police Superintendent who, in the sequel, has been promoted to Assistant Commissioner. Although promoted, Wong is still a stumbling advertisement for buffoonery. Not surprisingly, he provides the bulk of the movie’s comedy. Also, Ruby Wong (“Hit Team”) returns from the original as Ho and Wong’s superior, but has little more than a cameo. I’m not even certain if she’s playing the same character, because both men calls her “Madam”, and she’s listed in the credits as such.
“ROOT 2” is a good movie, even if its whole premise seems too familiar for its own good. Ekin Cheng manages to redeem himself for a lot of the trash that I’ve seen him in, and Ching Wan Lau is still one of the most underused actors in Hong Kong. It’s good to see him finally get good roles, and hopefully the “Running Out of Time” series will land him some more good movies. Like Simon Yam, another terrific character actor, it’s almost criminal how little Lau gets used as a leading man.
As a sequel, “ROOT 2” is of course not nearly as good as the original. The screenplay is perhaps too breezy, and the pace lacking in any suspense or tension. We know that nothing bad will ever happen to anyone despite all the high-flying stunts and walking on the edges of very tall buildings. In a way, we even know how the film is going to end, which in a movie that involves such clever schemes and plotting like the “Running Out of Time” series, is very counter productive.
Wing-cheong Law, Johnnie To (director) / Kin Yee Au, Nai-Hoi Yau (screenplay)
CAST: Ching Wan Lau …. Ho Shong Sang
Ekin Cheng …. The Thief
Kelly Lin …. Teresa
Shiu Hung Hui …. Wong Kai Fa
Suet Lam …. Ken