Tsui Hark's thrilling adaptation of Qu Bo s beloved adventure novel stars Tony LEUNG Ka-fai as a ruthless bandit, ruling the lands of Northeast China from his fortress on Tiger Mountain. A captain of the Liberation Army (LIN Gengxin) launches a counter-insurgency against the dictator with a skilled investigator (ZHANG Hanyu) sent to destroy the gang from the inside.
Historical epics are a fun genre for filmmakers and story tellers to play in. For one thing, they offer the opportunity to tell a big story on a big canvas while offering incredible production design. On the other hand, they can be the source for some cultural reflection and can inspire an audience to ponder the impacts of past events on the current cultural climate. Eccentric Producer and Director Tsui Hark seems to have set these themes of cultural reflection within his post World War II action thriller 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' and at the same time made a rip-roaring cartoon of an action film.
In 1946, as China recovers from the Japanese invasion, it finds itself caught in the middle of a bloody civil war. Just as the country is trying to put itself back together again, segments of the country tear itself apart as lawless bandits plunder the countryside. Ill outfitted members of the People's Liberation Army attempt to retake control of the northeastern provinces that have been ravaged by a particularly vicious man called Hawk (Tony Leung). Hawk and his massive army plunder the countryside dressed in PLA uniforms, so when the actual army arrives to help, the survivors fear them and don't trust they're really there to help. Enhancing the problem the army faces is the fact that Hawk as assumed control of the fully stocked fortress built near the summit of Tiger Mountain.
Agent 203, known only to a few by his real name Shao Jianbo (Lin Gengxin) of the PLA has been tasked with retaking control of the fortress at Tiger Mountain. With the aid of his best man, Yang Zirong (Zhang Hanyu) Shao has a real shot at taking the fortress with his understocked and outnumbered army. By using geography and subterfuge, Shao and Yang are able to stage a massive and devastating assault on Hawk and his forces.
'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' is a difficult film to speak about from a historical perspective since I lack even a cursory knowledge of true events and figures. After a brief kick over to Wikipedia I learned a few facts that line up with this film, such as the battle was real and the figure heads at the center of the engagement were apparently real people - but other than it being a prominent story in Chinese history - I wasn't able to learn much that would lend me to confirm this film's historical accuracy. With that, I'm left to assess this film entirely on its cinematic merits, to that, I will say that this movie is a wild and crazy ride.
Apparently when it was released in Chinese theaters 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' was given the added bonus of 3D. From the opening gunfight, it's very easy to see where and how this would play out. The whole film seems to have been designed for a three dimensional presentation, so it's especially frustrating that this film is currently only available in 2D here in the United States. I have a feeling that I'm missing out on the more viscerally impactful moments. In fact the 3D feeling of the film is so apparent that I sense that my rather muted reaction to the film is subject to not experiencing this movie as intended.
It's a very entertaining film and exhibits that thoroughly kinetic style and filmmaking flair that only Tsui Hark can pull off and still come away with a watchable film. As fas war-time dramatics, the movie is kind of thin. The audience isn't given a whole lot to work with in terms of characters and their purpose in life beyond fulfilling the currently assigned mission to the letter. The politics of the era with the rise of the communist moment aren't really explored. Perhaps adding to the odd feeling of this film is the juxtaposition of historical moments to modern day scenes involving a young man traveling from New York's Chinatown area to his actual homeland in China. As he travels he gets to enjoy any number of modern amenities, food, drink, communication, entertainment, and modern transportation - items the men fighting to take control of Tiger Mountain didn't have at their disposal. The notion of the life this man is allowed to lead only being possible because of the sacrifices of a few brave men some seventy years earlier would be meaningful if it was at all effective. For this movie the message feels tacked on and the jump cuts in time periods feel out of place.
Even with the strange story mechanics, 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' is still a wild and entertaining war film - one that only a master like Tsui Hark can make. It may not be incredible, but it is still very good. In point of fact, this movie is so good that it very nearly scrubbed my brain of the terrible memories of the Jean-Claude Van Damme flick 'Knockoff.' Any movie that can do that has got to be worth at least one viewing! Even with perhaps questionable historical accuracy, 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' does provide for a couple hours of fun and entertainment. I do hope one day a 3D Blu-ray becomes available here in the states so that I can get the full experience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Well GO USA and is pressed on a BD50 Disc. The disc opens to some trailers for upcoming Well Go releases before arriving to the main menu.
Having been shot digitally, 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' looks simply stunning with this 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Detail levels as should be expected are the true highlight here as mediums and closeup shots offer a lot to appreciate and take in when viewing the intricate costuming and the impressive production design work that went into set construction. Color gets plenty of pop, some of it heightened intensionally - especially the color red - but that doesn't keep flesh tones from looking natural and even. The scenes that take place in 1946 do have what appears to be some sort of "digital grain" added to make these sections of the movie appear older and separate from the modern era scenes. It's an odd effect that doesn't really impact the picture quality really, but I thought it worth a mention since it is present, but only in those specific scenes. Otherwise black levels and shadow separation is rock solid and aids the three dimensional pop of the film. Again, I'd love to see this film in 3D as intended, but this 2D presentation does just fine.
For a Tsui Hark film, 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' offers a rather subdued Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. That isn't to say things are all talk - when the action kicks in, every channel in your sound system will get a thorough and effective auditory workout. While most of the dialogue keeps to the center channels, there is plenty of imaging going on as ambient and atmospheric sound effects keep the rest of the channels alive and present. On that end, dialogue is crystal clear and doesn't have too much trouble working with the score or other sound elements. The mix for the most part keeps to the midranges, but I could sense a bit of drop off from time to time whenever scenes shifted from loud action to softer conversation. I had to adjust my volume a couple times to compensate for this, but not so terribly as to impact my score for this mix.
Interviews: (HD 21:10) Director Tsui Hark and actors Tony Leung, Zhang Hanyu, Tong Liya, and Lin Gengxin talk about the film and the production. Given that the material is spread out between five subjects, it's a very brief and not very informing collection of interviews.
Trailer: (HD 1:48) The trailer does a solid enough job setting up the movie and at least making it seem interesting.
Historical epics provide a lot of pitfalls for a film to fall into. You need to be entertaining while also reverential to actual history - it's a tough balancing act. I can't speak to the accuracy of 'The Taking Of Tiger Mountain' but I can say that the film is at least very entertaining. With a strong A/V presentation and only a couple extras, I really only can say that this movie is worth a look. Without a 3D option, I have a feeling that a lot of the film's intended impact is lost.