HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Taking of Tiger Mountain
HTS Overall Score:89
Tsui Hark is a legend of Hong Kong Cinema. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and even the early 90’s, he was considered one of the greats. Rivaling John Woo and the like he made some of the most prolific and influential Hong Kong action movies ever made. “Once upon a time in China”, his work in “A Better Tomorrow”, even going over to America and working with Van Damme on “Double Team” and “Knock-Off”. He used to churn movies out a mile a minute, filming with a very unique and visually stimulating style and weird sense of humor that made him a little less palatable for western audiences. His biggest drawback was that he had a hard time keeping a story together, many times letting loose ends sway in the wind, and some story pieces to wander around like a dog being distracted by a squirrel. I really liked “Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame” and “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”, but “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” is easily his best told and most fun movie in the last 10 years. It’s wild, it’s exciting, it’s got his quirky style of humor and there’s enough action to put a smile on this Hong Kong film lover’s face.
The story is framed by a modern day setting. A young man of college age is visiting his grandmother for New Year’s Eve dinner before he heads off to America for MIT. Seeing the Peking Opera version of “Taking of Tiger Mountain” it sets off a cascade of memories from that becomes the main film portion. It was back in 1946 after the Japanese had pulled out of China, leaving the nation in ruins. Bandits and bandit gangs are trying to take control of the nation, terrorizing villages and making a general nuisance of themselves. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) is sent in to wipe up the mess and take out these bandits. The most feared and violent bandit leader, Lord Hawk (Tony Leung), is holed up in Tiger Mountain with the remnants of an entire Japanese armament left behind when the troops pulled out. Loaded to the gills with guns and an almost impenetrable fortress he is lording it over all the surrounding villages around Tiger Mountain, and the PLA has only troupe 203 to come in and take him out.
Headed by Captain Jianbo (Kenny Lin), the rag tag group of men are worn down and exhausted. They’ve been hunting bandit members for months and their rations are at nil and the brutal winter has thinned their numbers to about 30 men. Holing up in a village at the base of the mountain, troupe 203 hunkers down and re groups for a suicide mission on the mountain fortress. Realizing that they’re out numbered and out gunned their scout, Zirong Yang (Hanyu Zang) offers to go undercover into the bandit fortress and see if he can find a weakness. Being an undercover agent in the past makes Yang perfect for the job and he soon wheedles his way into Lord Hawk’s good graces. While Hawk believes him, several of the other higher members of the gang are more suspicious, and a cat and mouse gave begins that may prove deadly for the spy.
Having to entrench himself in the ranks, Yang is forced to wage war against his own men down in the village below. Using his inside information and some skill, he is able to get word out before the major attack comes to be, effectively giving them the upper edge. This puzzling loss by the bandits, who outnumber the PLA 10:1 in the raid, gives Lord Hawk more than cause for concern. On the verge of killing the new member, his plan is interrupted as the PLA make one last ditch effort to take the mountain fortress, thanks to the information supplied by Yang.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=45898[/img]“The Taking of Tiger Mountain” happens to be one of Tsue Hark’s more cohesive storylines in the last couple decades. That’s not to say that there is plenty of plot stuffing, or side quests that fill up the 143 minute runtime, but Tsui keeps the story focused on the main prize, giving a much more satisfying experience than I previously expected. You don’t really need to know much about the historical events of the movie, as it’s fairly self-explanatory. Originally a novel, and then turned into a play by the Peking Opera, the tale is classic and has been told for generations in China. War stories are of the easiest translated tales into other languages and cultures, as the incidents of war are a common binding agent, no matter the race or creed. The outnumbered soldiers are easily recognized by anyone who knows the military, and the opposing forces are your classic overly exaggerated villains who twirl their mustaches.
This dichotomy between the PLA forces and the Hawk Bandits is also a slight detriment to the film. Tsui Hark did a great job comparing and contrasting the two forces, giving a bleakly realistic look at the PLA forces. Men who are worn down and very much military folks struggling to complete their mission, but he made the Hawk Bandits into lavishly displayed period piece bandits. Decked out in brocade and other such leather armor, they have a leader who hams it up to the extreme and carries around a hawk who pecks other’s eyes out. Even the bases are completely different. The PLA is in a broken down village with minimal niceties, while the old abandoned base on top of Tiger Mountain is decked out with reds, blues, oranges and greens of ornate decorations. Sometimes this comes across as a bit jarring and the shifts between locations seem out of place at times.
Rest assured that the movie looks INCREDIBLE from a filming standpoint as well. Tsui Hark has always been known for his lavish style of filming and the movie just looks jaw dropping with all of the different textures and colors that he employs. Whether it be a post WWII action movie, or an ancient Chinese Wuxia film, he really brings in visual styles that make the man stand out from his peers. The scene with the tiger in the mountain is one of the most awe inspiring scenes of the whole movie, and one that makes the movie worth owning, even if he had botched the rest of the film. As a longtime fan of his, you might notice that the director is applying more and more CGI effects to his films, instead of the elaborate wire work and physical stunt work of old, and while that is a tad disappointing, the amount of work that he can do with the cheaper Hong Kong CGI is head and shoulders above his competition over there. I have to commend the man.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=45906[/img]I have to rub my eyes and make sure I’m not dreaming, because the 1.85:1 encoded disc that I watched was simply GORGEOUS! Tsui Hark is known for his elaborate visuals, but the picture perfect encoding of the disc makes it stand out even more so. The icy mountain terrain is insanely beautiful, with piercing whites and blues of the snowy mountain, punctuated with darker portions of the movie inside of the Hawk hideout. There we see all the colors of the rainbow, as brocade silk garb, colorful tattoos and dark glowering officers in black leather are scene. There is a dull red glow to the hideout that adds some nice creepy bits to the image, almost neon in nature, due to the paper lamps use to diffuse the light. Black levels are incredibly dark and inky, with plenty of shadow detail to be seen. I usually see SOME signs of banding in Well Go USA releases recently, but this one seems to have been given plenty of breathing room, as I saw no digital anomalies to mar the picture. Just flawless.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=45914[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA Mandarin track with subtitles is almost as amazing as the spotless video. It’s aggressive when it needs to be, and laid back when it doesn’t call for it, but also wonderfully nuanced throughout. The surrounds get an incredible workout with pinpoint directional accuracy as bullets ricochet off of metallic surfaces and impact in wood, or the rumbling sounds of a tank as it crunches over the bridge, shattering little rocks along the way. The dialog is beautifully done, crystal clear and well balanced with the effects of the war time movie, never too low or too loud in comparison. LFE is bone crunching, yet also restrained at times. It doesn’t feel like one of those heavy duty tracks until the action really heats up and a falling rocks decimates your seating area with sub 30hz sounds.
Tsui Hark (Director)
Tony Ka Fai Leung (Hawk)
Zhang Hanyu (Yang)
Tony Liya (Little Dove)
Yu Nan (Qinglian)
Chen Xiao (Gao)
Lin Gengxin (Captain)
Han Geng (Jimmy)
“The Taking of Tiger Mountain” is a breath of fresh air in Hong Kong cinema, and has taken the number one spot in my “HK movie of the year” spot so far. Although, I do have high hopes for Donnie Yen’s “Kung Fu Killer” coming out soon. “Tiger Mountain” is full of non-stop visual excitement and Tsui Hark’s trademark quirky sense of humor for a long movie that just doesn’t feel as long as it is. It makes the package even sweeter with a stunning video and audio encode and some decent extras to round out this low priced disc. Highly recommended for people who enjoy Asian cinema, or just action movies in general.
Starring: Hanyu Zhang, Kenny Lin, Tony Leung
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Jianxin Huang (Screenplay), Bo Qu (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 143 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: June 2nd 2015
Buy The Taking of Tiger Mountain On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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