The Taking of Tiger Mountain (China/Hong Kong, 2014)
The Taking of Tiger Mountain, an action-adventure film from legendary Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, is now available on DVD and digital HD from Well Go USA Entertainment. This review is based on the Blu-ray version. The film is has its roots in the 1957 novel Tracks in the Snowy Forest by Qu Bo. During the Cultural Revolution, the book served as the basis for Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, one of the eight model operas produced during that period that was also made into a film in 1970.
Bookended by scenes set in the present day that seem intended to make the story relevant to contemporary audiences, Hark’s film is set in north-east China in 1946. At that time the area was victimized by rampaging bandits. One powerful gang was led by Hawk (Tony Leung Ka Fai, who is made all but unrecognizable by wonderful make-up). His gang consisted of over 1,000 bandits and was based remote and well-defended Tiger Mountain. A People’s Liberation Army (PLO) squad of thirty-some Communist soldiers are led by a captain code-named 203 (Lin Gengxin) with the objective of subduing Hawk and his men. Joining them are Comrade Yang, a political division scout sent by the Hejiang Military District and field hospital nurse Comrade Bai (Tong Liya), called Little Dove by the troops. Yang, with 203’s reluctant acquiescence, enters hawk’s lair as a spy in order to provide a means for the PLO squad to attack the fortress. Little Dove, along with one other female character, provides a touch of estrogen in this otherwise testosterone-laden war movie.
The film, originally shot in 3D, clearly has some scenes that were intended to produce an “off-the-screen-and-into-your-face” effect. But they in no way suffer from transference to 2D. There are lots of digital bullets, knife blades, blood, flying hawks and debris from explosions. Also one very convincing and ferocious digital tiger (where would a movie with this title be without at least one tiger?) The considerable CGI, which is very well done, contribute significantly to the more than seven minutes of end credits. Despite it’s rather epic length of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the film moves along nicely. To his credit, Hark claims to have eliminated some of the sermons from the source material. While I’m not familiar with Qu Bo’s book, nor with the opera or 1970 film based on it, I think it’s safe to say that, while a degree of patriotic pride still remains in Hark’s film, it’s probably not nearly as preachy and stilted as the source material.
So what we have is a brisk, entertaining action-adventure film set in the period in which the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong (spelled Tse-tung in my 1966 first edition “Little Red Book”) fought to consolidate control over all of China after the Second World War.
This review was first posted at AsianCineFest.