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A hair short

By Patrick Macias

LIKE SAMSON'S, Ekin Cheng's strength was in his hair. But in Running Out of Time 2 (Four Star) Cheng (a.k.a. Dior Cheng, a.k.a. Noodle Cheng) done shorn his David Cassidy-caliber locks. Now, with Miami Vice stubble and criminally exposed earlobes, Cheng, the Chinese Superman of Legend of Zu, reveals himself to be merely human. Perhaps that's why this entry in the would-be Running Out of Time franchise seems to be lacking that certain something. Without so much as a nod to the events of the first film, a police negotiator (Lau Ching Wan) is hot on the trail of a mystery man and aspiring magician (Cheng) who has stolen three priceless art treasures and is holding them for ransom so he can buy candy (that's right, candy!) for starving children. Cheng keeps Lau on his toes and fills the running time with wicked games, requests for counterfeit dough, and cruel jokes, but there's really nothing at stake here, and the absolute lack of characterization and intrigue, previously a major stronghold for codirector Johnnie To and Milkyway Productions, makes you pine for To's tough stuff (The Mission) or even the well-rounded romantic comedy shtick of his Love on a Diet. To be fair, it's always fun to watch Lau play a beleaguered cop, and there's a magnificent, rain-soaked, set-to-Cantopop bicycle chase, but some hardball would have helped (the first Running film saw Andy Lau acting his little heart out and winning a Best Actor Award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society for his efforts). Here there's naught but a grinning Cheng, seemingly always shot in loving slow motion and accompanied by a baffling, CGI bald eagle. Hey, it might have worked, if not for the hair.

Patrick Macias is the author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion.