A Man Called Tiger [冷面虎] (1973)
AKA The Man Called Tiger
Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Okada Kawai, Maria Yi Yi, James Tin Jun, Minakaze Yuko, Kasahara Reiko, Tien Feng, Kuro Mitsuo, Lee Kwan, Kam Shan, Han Ying-Chieh, Lo Wei
Directed by Lo Wei
Expectations: I hope have much hope for this, but I’m open to it.
A Man Called Tiger is one of those old movies that you’ll either respect or hate. Its story is rather convoluted for something that should be fairly easy to convey in a martial arts picture: a man, in this case Jimmy Wang Yu, attempts to uncover the specifics of his father’s murder. But since this is a Lo Wei film, and from his Shaw Brothers wuxias I know he loved a good twisting plot, he has filled the film with other characters all searching for their daddies too. I’m not even exaggerating when I say there are no less than three fathers being searched for, and I’m not entirely sure that there wasn’t a fourth. All this crammed into a slim 76 minutes, too.
At least, that’s what I thought initially. I bought the film as part of Shout Factory’s Jimmy Wang Yu Collection, but prior to that being released I had also hunted down a VCD of the film. Completely unbeknownst to me, the VCD contained the full Hong Kong release version of the film, running 100 minutes. I queued it up in hopes that the missing 24 minutes would flesh out the missing father plots, and tie up some of those loose threads. The film definitely makes more sense at its full length, but it’s much slower, and one of the characters still appears without any explanation. Seriously, she first appears when she picks up Wang Yu as he is fleeing from a group of bad guys, and they clearly know one another. A few minutes later, she’s naked in a hotel bed declaring her love for Wang Yu. I don’t know who she is, but I think she was looking for her father.
The supporting character Ayako (Okada Kawai) gets much better representation in the full cut. She opens the film by singing a couple of songs, showing a picture of her missing father to bar patrons in-between. She performs a couple more songs later in the film, both of which are cut to almost nothing in the 76-minute version, as well as a couple of extra dialogue scenes that further her search for her father. Since the film opens with her search, I assumed this was an important or even the main plot point, but it’s ultimately not that important, and it’s actually incredibly coincidental and unbelievable that it even connects to Wang Yu’s story in the way that it does. In any case, it all makes more sense in the longer version, but it still doesn’t make much sense. And that’s basically true of the whole movie.
But enough of the “this cut/that cut” stuff. A Man Called Tiger is a Hong Kong action film, and I’m assuming that’s also the first priority of most everyone interested in this movie. If you know anything about Jimmy Wang Yu, you know that he was the genre’s first huge star of the modern era and that he can’t actually fight. It’s all down to the editing and the choreography to sell his abilities as a badass, and thankfully both director Lo Wei and action choreography Han Ying-Chieh do a good job of masking Wang Yu’s lack of martial prowess. His kicks are still crooked and weak, but most of the time he looks convincing enough.
The best sequence comes roughly halfway through the film, when Wang Yu is ambushed in a derelict building by Han Ying-Chieh and a bunch of goons. Wang Yu blasts through the goons like they’re paper dolls, but the choreography is really fun and exciting, escalating at the end when only Han Ying-Chieh remains. They have an exceptional one-on-one battle that then leads into some more goons coming out of the woodwork to give Wang Yu yet another challenge. They chase him to an aerial lift and the fight continues as the lift exits the station and heads out over the water. It’s really something to see — even before one of the goons and Wang Yu (or his stuntman, presumably) actually hang outside the moving car and swing their legs to try and knock the other off.
A Man Called Tiger made its way to my watchlist through its place on the 1973 Hong Kong Box Office Top 10 — it was 7th for the year. Throughout the film, in my moments of boredom, I wondered what led this film to be such a success. When Wang Yu and the goons entered the aerial lift, it made sense. Not only is it a good fight that comes directly after another good fight, but the reality of fighting in that tight interior space of the lift while it’s moving out of the station and over the water is really cool. And then they escalate it even further by having the stuntmen hang from the lift! Nowadays we’ve seen these kinds of insane stunts many times — especially if you’ve explored any ’80s or ’90s Hong Kong films. But in 1973? I don’t know that I’ve seen this early of a Hong Kong film do something so obviously in the face of insurance policies everywhere. It’s nuts! No matter how boring a good portion of this movie is, this scene alone makes it a worthwhile watch for Hong Kong fans. And I’m holding back on describing the scene’s closing shot, which I’d like to imagine influenced Jackie Chan as he devised and performed insane stunt after insane stunts a decade after this film released.
No matter which version you watch, A Man Called Tiger is still a boring movie (unless you really love Wang Yu, and you especially enjoy seeing woman swooning over him… cuz that happens A LOT in this movie 🙂 ). While the longer version does make more sense, it does so at the cost of creating a larger amount of boredom about things that ultimately don’t matter or pay off in any kind of impactful way, so I think just about everyone would be set with the much more readily available 76-minute cut. You’ll get to the action quicker, and if you’re watching a movie like this by choice, I’ll assume you’ve dealt with worse instances of confusing movies and can deal with what this movie throws at you.
And if the trivia section of IMDB is to be believed (and it definitely seems plausible given the people involved and the time frame), then A Man Called Tiger was originally to have been Bruce Lee’s third film with Lo Wei, but he instead went on to make The Way of the Dragon. So if you do see this movie, consider what it might have been like with Bruce in the Wang Yu role. I can’t really imagine it myself.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Cheh & Kuei Chi-Hung’s The Delinquent! See ya then!