THE TAKING OF TIGER MOUNTAIN – A Review by John Strange

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THE TAKING OF TIGER MOUNTAIN
 
By: John ’Doc’ Strange
 
Directed by: TSUI Hark
 
Cast: ZHANG Hanyu, LIN Gengxin, TONG Liya, Tony LEUNG Ka Fai, YU Nan
 
MPAA Rating: NR
 
Selig Rating: FULL PRICE
 
Runtime: 136 Min.
 
Language: Mandarin with English Subtitles
 
 
The Taking of Tiger Mountain is adapted from the novel “TRACKS IN THE SNOWY FOREST” which is a famous Chinese novel by QU Bo that has been previously adapted as a Beijing Opera.  In fact, clips from a presentation of the opera are used twice in the film.
 
TSUI Hark, the film’s director, went a different direction than one taken by the opera.  His film is shot with as a contemporary story giving us the historical part of the story via the young man’s imagination as he reads the hand-made book.  The young man, about to fly to the US to start a new job, drops by a friend’s apartment for a few minutes.  His friend interrupts the karaoke on the TV with the Beijing Opera rendition of the story of the taking of Tiger Mountain. 
 
This apparently has a profound effect on our young man.  He starts watching the Beijing Opera story “Killing the Tiger” in the cab to the airport and we cut to the action of the story in his mind.  It is the winter of 1946; a year has passed since the Japanese surrendered.  China is in the throws of a civil war.
 
Unit 203 of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), led by Captain 203 (LIN Gengxin), is in the northeast part of China awaiting new orders.  The local bandit warlord, Lord Hawk (Tony LEUNG Ka-fai) who managed to capture a Japanese-held fortress filled with food, arms, and ammunition  making him the most powerful of the bandit leaders in this section of post World War II China has had his men scouring the country-side, destroying any village which opposed him and taking all of the food from those that surrendered.  The patrol finds a group the Hawk’s men raiding a machine storehouse and moves to attack them.
 
Captain 203’s men are short on ammunition.  While trying to sneak up on the bandits, one of the PLA soldiers makes a noise and alerts the bandits.  Thanks to the quick thinking of one of the soldiers pretending to be a solitary roving hunter/thief, they are able to get the drop on the bandits anyway.  The battle is a little odd to watch as they use some slow motion effects that look great in 3D but odd in the 2D format I watched in.  Watching the bullets fly in slow motion and the blood spray just as slowly are seen a lot in the recent American grindhouse films made to look like the action is on the pages of comic books, excuse me, graphic novels.  Only a few of the bandits survive to race back to the fort on Tiger Mountain.  Searching the storehouse the PLA troops find a huge cache of ammunition.
 
The action jumps back to the young man.  Instead of getting on a plane to America he is on a bullet train heading across the Chinese landscape.  He receives a call where we learn he is returning home.  He has called his new bosses to let them know he will be delayed and is returning home to retrieve something he forgot.  He looks at a sketchbook and we are transported back to the story of Unit 203.
 
A train bearing investigator YANG (ZHANG Hanyu) and medical officer LITTLE DOVE (TONG Liya) arrives with orders and FOOD.
 
We are then shown the mountain fortress of the HAWK.  The two men who manage to return from the raid are not believed when they talk about the troops and tell them there were tanks.  The HAWK’S hawk dines on their eyes as punishment for their failure.
 
While the medical officer attends to the weather damage and injuries of the troops, the orders are discussed.  They also capture a feral boy.  He refuses to do more than scream.  He won’t eat and he certainly does not trust these men.
 
An emissary from the other political party in the civil war, the KMT, arrives to negotiate with Lord Hawk.  They want him to join them and share his supply of arms and ammunition.  In return he would be given a high command position.  But it is a ruse.  Their preference is to award the command to his competition, known as Big Stick.  They only want his maps.
 
it seems that there are three maps that detail where troops, supplies, and gold were stockpiled during the war.  Lord Hawk has the ones detailing supplies and personnel.  What he wants is the one detailing the location of the treasures.  The KMT emissaries have it.
 
One of the emissaries turns traitor to the KMT and steals the map.  On his way to the fortress to use the map to join Lord Hawk’s band, Unit 203 captures him.  Securing the third map from a traitor, YANG is sent into the Tiger Mountain stronghold to find a way for the troop to defeat the bandits.  Inside he discovers not only the needed information but the mother of the orphan boy the patrol had captured and has slowly rehabilitated from his feral state.  This intelligence allows the PLA troops to storm the fortress with a chance to defeat their numerically superior foe.
 
Following the end of the epic battle we return to the train the boy and his mother are reunited.  We return to the young man’s journey.  The truth behind his decision to make the side trip is revealed.  It is an ending I would never have figured on but one that really touched my heart.  We even get an alternate ending to the battle that is much more heroic than the first one.  In fact it felt like I was watching a Chinese version of one of the Indiana Jones films! 
 
I like this story and the chance to get to know more about the history of China in the post-World War II era as the political changes came over that country.  The only complaint I had was that at times the dialogue went too fast for me to read all of the subtitles.  This was annoying but didn’t stop me from enjoying the story.  I hope we see more films come out of China telling us tales like this.
 
 
 
 
The Selig Rating Scale:
 
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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