Tiger on the Beat
Reviewed by James Chang
Liu Chia Liang (1935 -) (a.k.a.Lau Kar Leung)
is a maestro in Chinese martial arts and the genre of ' kung fu ' films.
He was the man who restored kung fu films to their traditional roots. In
the early 70s, when Bruce Lee invented his new style of fighting, introducing
exotic elements into traditional wushu, everyone tried to imitate him (without
success) by introducing all sorts of strange stances into local king fu
cinema. There was Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Karate, Indian martial arts --- everything
you can think of was put onto the silver screen. Liu was different; he
purified the genre by adopting the most traditional style in his works
--- the Hung Gar. Every single move of his actors can be identified. However,
in the late 80s, his career waned, mainly due to the fact that his major
works in Shaw Studio were too ' old school ', lacking the freshness, the
glamour and the flashy style of modern Hong Kong action films. After a
few years of being on the sidelines, in 1988 Karl Maka of Cinema City requested
that he make a modern day action thriller, Tiger on the Beat. With the
assistance of Cinema City, Liu finally became a ' modern day film maker
Like many HK flicks*, the story of this film was
inspired by Hollywood productions such as Walter Hill' s 48 Hours (1982)
and Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon (1986). There are two cops working in
a team – one of them being tough and cool and mighty and the other being
a cunning scoundrel, who gleefully pokes fun at his unfortunate partner.
Chow Yun Fat does a fine job playing the devious cop, and the rest of the
cast including Nina Li, Conan Lee and Tsui Siu Keung (Norman Chu) also
give solid performances. The director made good use of their personal characteristics.
In smaller roles James Wong plays the police captain and David Chiang the
The story is again very simple. Chow and Conan
are police partners - Chow is a bit of a coward with a reputation for being
lazy on the job while Conan is the righteous young man who fights ferociously
against crime. They soon tracked down Nina Li Chi, who plays the sister
of a heroine smuggler (Phillip Ko). Her brother is considered a traitor
of the smugglers' gang and is killed by Norman Chu, the chief of the gang.
After getting seriously smacked around by Chow, she agrees to co-operate
with the police and with her lead, Chow and Conan finally come to the den
of the smugglers. After an extremely bloody duel between Conan and Gordon
Liu (using a chainsaw!), Norman is arrested.
Basically, I do not appreciate films like this.
No, please don't take me wrong. I do enjoy watching gangster films, gunfight
films and crime thrillers, but at least, all the violence and exploitation
should have a reasonable reason behind it and should be executed in a more
graceful way. Look at John Woo and his heroic bloodshed, look at the massacre
of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) under the
sunshine. They were beautifully shot. Even the gory scenes in Macbeth (1971),
much more bloody than here, had reasons and motives behind them. The violence
used in the killing scenes was so unnecessary and ridiculous that together
with Chow's behavior, they almost made me laugh.
On the other hand, I must admit that CYF' s acting
was quite good. The scene where he urinated in his trousers after having
a pistol shoved in his mouth at the beginning was really quite funny. It
should be pointed out that the popularity of CYF in HK mainly came from
his grass-root image (and background) and his comedic efforts rather than
his cooler roles in The Killer and others. (His character in A Better Tomorrow
was a mixture of both images.) His box office popularity should be able
to explain this.
Besides being bloody in an awkward way, another
aspect of this film that annoys me was its discrimination against females
and non-Cantonese. Leading actress Nina Li was obviously used as an object
to be mocked by Chow's character. She was slapped on the face and then
thrown to the floor through a glass table. Everyone in HK knew that Nina
Li was not a Cantonese (as she can only speak heavily accented Cantonese
dialect) and everyone knew that CYF was a native denizen of Hong Kong Island.
Therefore, CYF 's insult can be understood as the hostility of local Cantonese
society against mainlanders (who are very often better educated professionals).
The filmmakers also tried to please the female audience by slapping Nina
' s character since more often than not Nina Li was described as ' bimbo-like
' by local females.
Of course, every film has its positive aspects.
In Tiger on the Beat, the stunts and the choreography were excellent and
Conan Lee was quite good as an acrobat. Besides, all actors/actresses performed
their own stunts, as required by the director. As CYF himself stated in
an interview, ' When I was ordered to slap Li Chi, I tried not to slap
her so hard near her ears, as it may cause permanent deafness.' It
was this willingness to sacrifice that made HK films in those days so enjoyable.
My rating of this film: 7.0
* Other examples include Prison on Fire
, adapted from Papillon(1973) , City on Fire , inspired by Serpico (1973)
( both of them about undercover cop ) , Easy Money (1987) , copied from
Topkapi (1964) , etc ..
Just a short review from me on this one.
I had read about Chow Yun Fat’s brutal scene with Nina Li beforehand, but
I was still unprepared for how nasty it is. Part of my visceral negative
reaction to this may partly stem from how much I like Nina Li the actress,
but it still felt unnecessarily rough and reflects quite badly on Chow’s
character. What is almost as bad though is how quickly she forgives him
and in fact seems to fall in love with him!
Chow’s character is easily one of the least likeable
that he portrayed during this period of his career – manipulative, clownish,
irresponsible – and he clearly has the worst wardrobe of any of his characters
– wearing loud shirts and a skipper cap throughout. For much of the film
Chow alternates between coy charm and shrill testiness – and it is really
only in the final confrontation in which he takes on anything near heroic
proportions. But even then his final exclamation of “we will be promoted
again!” puts to waste the sacrifice and pain of what preceded it. It is
an interesting performance from Chow and he shows a willingness to take
chances – but it was not a character that I particularly enjoyed following.
There are a number of pluses here though. Conan
is certainly impressive in some of his stunts – such as jumping on to the
hood of a moving car and somehow holding on and also leaping down from
a walkway to a bus below and then on to the street. And then the final
brawl is quite excellent as Chow and Conan walk into the bad guy’s hideout
and just start killing them in imaginative ways.
I also enjoyed a couple of the cameos – one from
Shing Fui On as a not very bright husband whose wife Chow is fooling around
with, Ti Lung as a bar owner who shows Conan that he hasn’t lost a thing
in the martial arts department – and the exchange between Chow and Lydia
Shum. I have a fondness for HK film references in HK movies – and there
are a few in this film. This was a classic though – Lydia is a salesperson
at the brassiere section of a store and while following Nina, Chow pretends
that he wants to buy one for his made up wife. Lydia wants to know what
size he needs:
Lydia: How big are they?
Chow: I forgot to ask today
Lydia: Elsie Chan's size?
Chow: Not that big.
Lydia: Pat Ha’s?
Chow: She doesn’t have any!
Lydia: Anita Mui?
Chow: She keeps changing her size!
My rating for this film: 6.0
Distributed by Universe
The image quality is fine
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks
Subtitles - : Chinese (Traditional),
English, Chinese (Simplified), Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese,
Bahasa Indonesian and Bahasa Malaysia.
Includes it's own trailer and ones for City
on Fire, All About Ah Long, Prison on Fire I & II and Hong Kong 1941.
Star files on Chow Yun-fat, Conan Lee and Lau