Dir: Tsui Hark. Hong Kong-China. 2000. 112 mins.
Prod co: Film Workshop Company Limited. Co-prod: Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia. Int'l sales: Columbia Tristar, Tel: (1) 310 244 4000. Prod: Tsui Hark. Scr: Koan Hui, Tsui Hark. DoP: Ko Chui Lam, Herman Yau. Editor:Marco Mak . Music: Tommy Wai. Main cast: Nicholas Tse, Wu Bai, Anthony Wong, Joventino Couto Remotigue, Candy Lo, Cathy Chui.

Anyone who has not studied the synopsis beforehand will have a hard time keeping track of who wants to take out who and why in Time And Tide. But who cares' King of Hong Kong action cinema Tsui Hark - back in the former colony after two American outings, Double Team and Knock Off - delivers such a stylish feast of high-octane entertainment that plot and character motivation are as dispensable as pedestrians in the line of fire.

Hark's return to a more Asian feel and structure will not necessarily damage the overseas prospects of this big-budget Columbia production; in fact, the distributors should take the risk of rolling it out wide in the States and Europe for its target youth audience. At the recent Venice Film Festival, Time And Tide picked up the FIPRESCI Future Film Festival prize.

Pretty boy Nicholas Tse - one of Hong Kong's hottest pop stars - plays Tyler, a young drifter who finds work with a semi-legal bodyguard agency in order to provide for the baby of an undercover cop he got pregnant. And that's only the first five minutes. The action spirals up through a series of fights, chases and plots involving the head of a triad and a crack squad of Brazilian mercenaries.

The latter are after Jack (played by Taiwanese singer and actor Wu Bai), whose buddy alliance with Tyler is sealed by the parallel pregnancies of their two partners. The final stake-out - during which Jack's wife Hui gives birth with a gun in her hand - is destined to become a classic of the genre.

In true Hark style, the film never takes itself too seriously; yet its humour is rarely crass. The Hong Kong locations - a succession of tacky bars, glitzy hotels, car parks, airports and tenements - are evocatively framed by DoPs Ko Chiu Lam and Herman Yau.

Much is made of the verticality of Hong Kong life - towering apartment blocks, whose stairs, courtyards and service ducts provide endless opportunities for imaginative cat and mouse shoot-outs. Box-office results in Asia and outside should confirm that Hark's star is still very much in the ascendant.