Based on a famous novel, which in turn, was based on a historical event in post-World War II China, Tsui Hark’s latest may seem like a propaganda item, but it is simply a nicely shot action film that has only one flaw of some unnecessary filller set in modern day New York and China.
In late 1946, the People’s Liberation Army was at war with a deadly group of bandits who were in cahoots with the Kuomintang. When they learn that the bandits have taken control of Tiger Mountain, the PLA, led by their captain 203, head to Leather Hill to begin a plan of attack to take control of Tiger Mountain. Along the way, they are joined by soldier and doctor Little Dove as well as finding a young boy, Little Knotti, whose mother has been missing for a long time.
When one of the PLA troopers, a rebel named Yang Zirong, offers to infiltrate the bandit camp, he is met with resistance. However, his persistence ultimately gets him the assignment. Yang is quite superior with intelligence and knows how the bandits operate. After tussling with a tiger on his way to the camp, he pretends to be Hu, an aide for a rival bandit leader. He finds himself on good terms with Lord Hawk, the bandit who has taken over Tiger Mountain. He soon becomes Number 9 as he is the ninth commanding officer of the bandits. He soon learns in the process that Hawk’s wife Qinglian is the mother of Knotti and she agrees to help him. Meanwhile, as 203 begins to receive messages, he begins the plan to destroy the bandits and ensure the safety of Tiger Mountain.
Tsui Hark is certainly a master filmmaker, or rather a true auteur. One of the pioneers of the Hong Kong New Wave genre, he has been responsible for practically reinventing Hong Kong cinema through his principles of trying something fresh and new. With his latest outing, he attempts to recreate the famous Chinese story of Tiger Mountain, which was based on real events in 1947 and was adapted as part of Qu Bo’s novel “Tracks on the Snowy Forest” and later adapted into a play.
Tsui collaborated with five screenwriters on the film and while the basic plot may sound like a piece of propaganda representing the People’s Liberation Army in China, it is actually far from that. Tsui just gave his vision of a historical event and brought it to life. However, there is a little issue that doesn’t really make sense. Instead of making this just a historical-style action film, Tsui starts the film with an unnecessary scene involving a young Chinese man at a karaoke bar getting ready to head home to China. Somehow, it is learned that this young man is actually from the area where Tiger Mountain in set and even goes as far as holding a sketchbook that has authentic photos of drawings from one of the soldiers of the PLA. The problem is, there isn’t really a reason for these scenes to even appear. It seems more as if it is unnecessary filler that just mars rather than enhances the 143-minute running time.
Zhang Hanyu brings out a terrific performance as the undercover Yang Zirong, who starts out as a rebellious member of the PLA who actually may be the only one capable of infiltrating the bandit army and it is clear that PLA troop leader 203, well played by Lin Gengxin, knows it. The film is smoothly edited as we get a look at both sides of the spectrum quite well. As we see Yang more or less gain the trust of the bandits, we see 203 not only prepare his attack of Tiger Mountain, but sees his soldiers as more or less a family rather than just soldiers. He understands the loyalty of his soldiers and what could be an eventual romance with Little Dove. Tony Leung Ka-Fai shows why he is still one of Hong Kong’s finest talents as the bandit leader Lord Hawk, complete with a beak-like nose with the hairstyle of Heihachi Mishima from the Tekken video games. He is quite ruthless at times yet gives a bit of unintentional comic relief when he starts a sentence with “one word”.
Yuen Bun was in charge of the film’s action sequences. There are virtually no martial arts action sequences (despite the appearances of Shi Yanneng and Xie Miao), but rather a style more akin to an actual war. Lots of bullets are flying and lots of explosions are the name of the game. Tsui’s principle of vision comes into play with the action scenes as he uses 3D technology to show slow motion bullet cams as well as the use of the bullets ricocheting off of walls to kill villains. He even goes as far as doing a stop motion style of grenades colliding or an explosion that is about to make a very impactful move on some villains.
Despite the use of the unnecessary modern day scenes, The Taking of Tiger Mountain is quite a well-made film from director Tsui Hark. The film is by no means propaganda, but more an action-packed ride into one of China’s prolific history post-World War II. Definitely worth a rental or if you like Tsui Hark’s recent work, a strong buy.
WFG RATING: B+
Well Go USA Entertainment presents a Bona Film Group/Distribution Workshop/August First Film/Wanda Media production. Director: Tsui Hark. Producers: Nansun Shi, Yu Dong, and Huang Jianxin. Writers: Huang Xin, Li Yang, Tsui Hark, Wu Bing, Dong Zhe, and Lin Chi-An; based on the novel “Tracks in the Snowy Forest” by Qu Bo. Cinematography: Choi Sung-Fai. Editing: Yu Baiyang.
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Lin Gengxin, Yu Nan, Tong Liya, Han Geng, Shi Yanneng, Du Yi-Heng, Chen Xiao, Xie Miao.