While it sometimes feels stiff and overlong, Hong Kong war drama The Taking of Tiger Mountain, the latest from essential action director Tsui Hark (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame), also proves disarmingly entertaining thanks to a Tsui specialty: spectacular fight scenes.
Based on Tracks in the Snowy Forest, Qu Bo’s novel about an isolated People’s Liberation Army unit’s grueling battles with Kuomintang soldiers and local warlords in post-WWII Northern China, the film can feel like a never-ending series of double-crosses and reversals of fortune.
But the plot is simple: Selfless heroes like Shao Jinbao (Kenny Lin), a stoic army captain, try to depose flamboyant villains like the greedy bandit Hawk (Tony Leung Ka-fai in a horrendous fake nose and tacky bald-cap). Once you know who’s fighting who, you can easily space out and enjoy Tiger Mountain as a collection of engrossing set pieces, like the one where PLA agent Yang (Zhang Hanyu) fends off a hulking CGI tiger. Sensational action also transforms the stoic heroes into superhumanly resourceful badasses.
Even Lin and Leung, the film’s stiffest performers, look like stars thanks to Tsui’s characteristically dynamic fight choreography: Witness Jinbao disarm and blast a bandit into a snowbank using the baddy’s own rifle. The Taking of Tiger Mountain may not always be as grand as it should be, but its thrills compensate for its shortcomings.