CAUGHT IN TIME (2020) review

Lau Ho Leung’s second feature film after the amusing caper Two Thumbs Up – which itself capped off a decade of writing films for the likes of Johnnie To, Gordon Chan, Daniel Lee, Derek Yee, Herman Yau or Teddy Chen – Caught in Time is loosely based on real events: the crime spree of cunning, ruthless bank robber Zhang Jun (Daniel Wu) throughout the nineties in several provinces of Mainland China. Wang Qianyuan plays dogged cop Zhong Cheng, an amalgamation of the police detectives that relentlessly chased Zhang, until his arrest in 2000.

In many ways and obviously by design, Caught in Time has the feel of an early nineties Hong Kong crime thriller, with its brisk pace papering over plot holes, furious shootouts captured with raw immediacy, and mirrored figures of cops and criminals, not to mention its nineties timeframe, of course. Yet its Chongqing setting and ultimate reliance on morality – where a Hong Kong thriller would have left the moral lines blurred at the very least – also make it unmistakably Mainland Chinese. 

Daniel Wu has never been better, fiendishly charismatic but never going into histrionics
(and playing what often feels like a matured version of the sociopathic bank robber he portrayed in Benny Chan’s New Police Story), he’s almost a taunt to Chinese censorship in how easily he goes from a sociopathic disregard for human life to a very human empathy for the suicidal character played by a – nevertheless underused – Jessie Li. Relentlessly chasing him yet not without a sense of admiration is the great Wang Qianyuan, in the kind of dogged cop role he knows like the back of his hand (after The Big Shot, The Guilty Ones, Lobster Cop and Sisyphus, to name a few), and their final confrontation, while more physical than intellectual, is the film’s highlight: an almost squirm-inducing scuffle on the cold, hard paving of a bathhouse, full of rage accumulated over years of heists and chases. 

This kind of raw energy is why it’s easy to forgive the plot holes and shortcuts that abound in Caught in Time. When the police locates two key members of Zhang’s team, it’s unclear how they managed that. But no matter, Lau Ho Leung unleashes one of those fake tracking shots that are all the rage these days – their hidden but obvious cuts not diminishing the thrill of their brutal flow – and all is forgiven (including a final title card extoling the virtues of Mainland China’s crime-free society).

Long Story Short: A fiendishly enjoyable crime thriller, with a breakneck pace and energy papering over a few plot-holes, and superbly charismatic performances by Daniel Wu and Wang Qianyuan. ***1/2


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  1. Blimey, 3 and a half? Going straight to the top of my watch list. 👍🏼

  2. Three and a half stars!! Satan must have bought a pair of ice skates… ;-) :-P

  3. Katemktm

     /  December 7, 2020

    Hi guys do you have any idea on how I can watch this movie (outside of going to a cinema in China)? Any possibiliy dvd, streaming, legal or not legal… thanks!

    • If you’re in the UK then Two Thumbs Up is on Netflix now. For Caught in Time, I’m hoping it comes up on Kodi soon because that seems to be the only way I’ll get to see it. Not sure if it’s something the Hai-ya streaming service will show.

    • Coming to Australian theaters December 10. Also supposed to come out in US theaters soon (December 3 originally, but that was pushed back).


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