By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Tsui Hark’s latest mega-action film, “The Taking Of Tiger Mountain,” calls, roughly halfway through, for a man to wrestle a tiger. Actually, the tiger comes out of nowhere in a snowy landscape, chases the man up a tree, chases him up and down and all around for a few minutes, then gets down to wrestling.
The tiger, like several other things onscreen, looks stiltedly fake. If you tilt your head and blink your eyes rapidly a few times, it might start to look like a real tiger. But taken straight, it never quite meshes with the man or the snowscape. Hark’s special effects crew lets him down on this count, as with an exploding truck, other explosions, and Hark’s trademark studies of bullets, knives, and grenades in flight.
He likes to roll back and forth chronologically before and after a big boom. And this new movie is in 3-D, to boot.
Back home, Hark’s big boom was selling “Tiger Mountain,” based on a best-selling novel by the late Qu Bo. It took in $51.9 million within six days of opening in China.
The home-crowd audience doesn’t mind the state of these effects, apparently. With or without CGI accuracy, Hark’s been making weapons and their damage his trademark since 1979.
Too bad, because the boom drowns out his decent work with characters and actors. “The Taking of Tiger Mountain,” loosely based on real events, gives us a wild set of wilderness bandits, running wild in the wild, 1946. Against them, a division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), sent to hunt and destroy.
The rugged men on both sides (plus a few women and one memorable young boy) not only have to survive in a frozen climate, they must fight to the death. And some of them must infiltrate the other side, using their wits, their confidence, and their stone faces. Hark’s close-ups often wait for one slight change on a face—a haughty warlord betraying one moment of sentiment, for example, or a spy struggling to project what he needs for survival.
Hark could make what are sometimes called “small” movies, in a big way, if he chose.
But he’s got a winning formula and he’ll stick with it. Too bad. Cherish the intimate moments of this one if you care to. Of course, you might be fond of tigers and explosions as well… (end)
“The Taking of Tiger Mountain” opens Friday, January 9th, at the AMC Pacific Place Theater, 600 Pine Street. 1.888.262.4386.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.