"More watchable than Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 combined!"
- Joseph Kuby
Tiger On Beat (1988)
AKA: Tiger on the Beat, Tiger Goes on the Beat
Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Writer: Kwok Chi Tsang
Producer: Karl Maka
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Conan Lee, Nina Li Chi, Chia Hui Liu, Tsui Sui Keung, Lung Ti, James Wong, Fui-On Shing
Running Time: 88 min.
Plot: A seasoned cop (Chow Yun Fat) and his rookie partner (Conan Lee) are a pair of mismatched partners in this Hong Kong "Lethal Weapon" take-off. The wacky twosome are up in arms as they try to solve the murder of a heroin trafficker.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: More watchable than Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 combined!
Although this irreverent film should really be compared to the overlooked classic Running Scared (which was a big hit in Hong Kong) than Lethal Weapon as the story borrows from Billy Crystal's movie in key scenes (as does Sammo's Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon). The international success of Lethal Weapon convinced studio heads to produce Tiger on the Beat.
Lethal Weapon was a good film with sharp interplay between Glover and Gibson but the action lacked anything noteworthy in concept. The chainsaw and belt-buckle segments in this flick are beyond anything conceivable in the vast majority of American action movies of the '80s. Credit has to be given though to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for providing obvious inspiration for the finale.
Tiger on the Beat is the sort of film which can be filed under the category of 'only in Hong Kong' and it's a striking example of why Hollywood has never truly embraced the "anything goes" mentality of HK film making. The humor is a mixed bag as proves to be the case in a lot of HK films made around this period.
Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee make for a delightful match-up which belittles the fact that they were skeptical of each other. Conan would get on Chow's nerves a lot. Had they actually got along well, we would have seen them as a pair in Wong Jing's God of Gamblers but Chow's disregard of Conan meant that Jing decided to create a new commercial angle for his '89 classic - HK's biggest film star paired up with the HK's biggest pop star.
Furthermore, Jing's advocacy of fast-paced film-making was confronted by the possibility that the production would have slowed down and fallen apart due to the level of bickering that could go on between Chow and Conan.
If there had to be a sticky issue with this movie, it's that Lau Kar Leung never wholeheartedly embraced contemporary martial arts thrillers in the same way Kwai, Sammo and Ping did. Lau was too stuck in his traditional ways to be renowned as a master of modern fighting styles. Metaphorically, he is akin to Wong Fei Hung's rival in Once Upon a Time in China.
The action in this film has both +'s and -'s. Many can argue that Lau is without equal when it comes to being a purveyor of unadulterated traditional martial arts action. Even so, he can never coordinate modern unarmed combat with the same ferocity that someone like Tony Leung Siu Hung could do. For all-round action, this film is reasonably enjoyable but for martial arts action, even an independent film like Angel can make mince meat of Lau's contributions here.
Chow did not find it difficult to work with Lau. He claims all the ideas for the action in the film belong to Lau. When they were on the set, Chow learned how to manipulate various Chinese weapons. The part where Chow uses the knife at the end, they used a wire to tie the knife to his finger so he could twirl the knife.
The writer of this film, Tsang Kwok Chi, had also written Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon - a film which owes its storyline to Running Scared no less than Tiger on the Beat does. The success of Tiger on the Beat had no doubt irked Lau Kar Leung's younger brother. Lau Kar Wing was always envious of his brother's success in the same way Sammo was of Jackie. The reason why Wing's film was less successful was that Chow Yun Fat was a bigger star than Karl Maka.
The success of Running Scared may surprise people but the local audience in Hong Kong are more interested in comedies than action films (hence the mixing of genres that takes place in Hong Kong). Full-on action movies like Hard Boiled, Tiger Cage 2, Fist of Legend and Eastern Condors usually have relatively paltry box office results.
Tiger on the Beat made more money than the majority of Chow's serious crime thrillers: A Better Tomorrow 2, City on Fire, The Killer, Flaming Brothers, Full Contact, Rich & Famous and Tragic Hero. As one might assume, Tiger on the Beat was big enough to have a sequel.
If the filmmakers of Running Scared realized just how big the film was in Asia, they could have gone ahead with making the sequel Still Running and releasing it for the Asian market. The size of Asia has always been perceived as a very good way to recoup costs. This explains why John Woo, Wong Jing and Jackie Chan have got away with making expensive films which proved to be troublesome for Hong Kong financiers.
In the case of Wong Jing, High Risk was made on a budget whose costs could not be covered in Hong Kong alone (where it made approximately US$ 1 million) thus the film went on to cover three times its cost after it made its mark in Japan, Thailand and Korea.
A lot of people have complained about the misogynistic attitude that Chow Yun Fat's character conveys. I don't mind it too much because it makes for a welcome departure from the usual congenial attitude one expects from a hero in a cop movie. Chow bashing a woman around beats the mandatory love scene you'd get in the American equivalent of a cop buddy movie.
My only complaint is that near the end of the film Nina Li likes him so much that she cries for him when she has to leave. Though this particular piece of plot development is nowhere near as implausible as the contrived final fight in Lethal Weapon.
Still, there was no plausible reason for her plight other than to make her more sympathetic. Something that was acknowledged as a marketing ploy by the producer to make her more likable for Asian audiences.
Prior to this film, a lot of movie goers were weary of Nina due to her coming from the Mainland and being perceived as a posh stuck-up diva. The perception is to do with Nina showing a lot of pride for her national heritage. Chow went as far to comment that Nina was less popular than the far-from-prestigious Amy Yip. According to Chow, the men in HK don't like Nina because she's not down-to-earth and she doesn't have that 'easy lay' vibe that Amy has.
Nevertheless, Chow despised having to put Nina through all the misogyny. He felt sorry for her and, in his view, all the abuse lashed out on her should have been heaped on Conan. Chow was well aware of the fact that Conan was disrespectful to the people who made him a star in the first place. Chow was particularly appalled at the thought that any person working in the industry would be physically assaulted by a Triad in the hopes of acquiring Conan's services.
Conan's ego was such that he thought that he was brought in to make Chow a big star than vice-versa. It's not hard to imagine Conan as someone in need of a reality check. In a '90s issue of the American magazine Inside Kung Fu, he had the audacity to claim that Chow wouldn't have been in Tiger on the Beat had Conan not accepted the role as his partner. Conan's claim would have been credible if the film was made before A Better Tomorrow.
Conan is something of an enigma in HK cinema. In muscularity, Conan is to Jackie what Dragon Lee is to Bruce. Conan is so egotistical that he proclaims to be the only actor who has done his own stunts yet he lacks the finesse his lookalike has. Conan, to his credit, has the same mentality to do risky stunts.
Conan's knowledge of English was never capitalized on when it came to distributing this film in English-speaking territories. This means his inclusion in the cast makes for a bizarre choice. I'm assuming the production team wanted Jackie so much that they were willing to settle on a poor man's version to capture half of the effect.
Like how Megadeth's Dave Mustaine has a tendency to mention Metallica in interviews, Conan never fails to convey disdain for Jackie when given the chance to talk with someone in the media. Upon the release of this film, Conan was quick to point out that his chainsaw battle was vastly impressive than Jackie's encounter with a chainsaw-wielding crony in The Protector. Coincidentally, Jackie's Peking Opera teacher had done a film in 1980 called The Old Master (with Bill Louie) which had chainsaw action.
The last thing that will be said about Conan will be a quote from Chow:
"Lee Yuen Bat is more Gwailo. He's not Chinese! He's really
The Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver is a big fan of this film and got Conan to play Jet Li's brother in Lethal Weapon 4. When he produced Exit Wounds with Steven Seagal and DMX, the rope trigger gag was reused along with a humble reference to the chainsaw encounter. Lamentably, Joel gave a disservice to Lau by siting John Woo for the rope-trigger bit.
If you're bored with strait-laced heroics and want something that's a bit more bohemian then Tiger on the Beat is recommendable, just don't watch it with feminists.
JOSPEPH KUBY'S RATING: 7.5/10
RAGING GAIJIN'S REVIEW: Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee headline this action-packed 80's Hong Kong flick. This is the kind of movie that the country seemed to mass produce during that decade: a melting pot of genres that tosses out wacky humor and gritty drama in equal measure, all held together by intense action sequences. If you're anything like me, you thrive off these movies and will be pleased to know that this is one of the best.
Okay, so the plot isn't very remarkable. It's basically a riff on "Lethal Weapon" as Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee play two mismatched partners on the Hong Kong police force. Chow Yun Fat is a womanizing rebel who ducks responsibility while Conan Lee is the stoic cop who''s always diving into action whenever duty calls. The two actors, while both excellent in their roles, don't really have any charisma together; and neither character is developed all that much. As a result, this doesn't exactly rank as a great heroic bloodshed movie or violent drama like "The Killer".
However, none of that really matters as soon as the action lights up the screen. Although his character is rather flat and unappealing, Chow Yun Fat has undeniable screen presence. It's always thrilling to watch him reload a shotgun as he holds the shells between his gritted teeth. You just know some bloody mayhem is soon to follow.
As cool as Fat is, I have to admit that Conan Lee steals the movie from him. Maybe it's just that his character is more likeable (he doesn't beat women up, for one thing) but I think it also has to do with Conan Lee's charisma. He's a talented actor who never seemed to become as popular as some of his contemporaries but his role in "Tiger on Beat" leaves a strong impression. He's the real star of the show and his phenomenal action sequences are what make this movie worth watching. He comes across as a more buff, more serious Jackie Chan. He does a lot of exciting stunts and engages in the movie's best choreographed martial arts battles. The climax of these bouts is a jaw-dropping chainsaw duel that, in my opinion, ranks as one of the greatest onscreen fights ever filmed. Conan Lee and his opponent wield the saws as though they were swords, exchanging blows in a shower of sprayed sparks and blood, almost like a Hong Kong Chainsaw Massacre.
"Tiger on Beat" is a relic of the Hong Kong film industry. Besides the fact that it's dated by Chow Yun Fat's dubious fashion sense and a few scenes set at an aerobics class, it's the kind of movie that no one really makes anymore: a no-frills blend of humor, drama, and violence. Sometimes the jokes work, sometimes they don't; same thing goes for the emotional content. It's a shame that Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee don't exactly light up the screen together, but "Tiger on Beat" still has some of the most over-the-top and insane action ever in a Hong Kong movie. This alone makes it a must see for fans.
RAGING GAIJIN'S RATING: 7.5/10
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: Chow Yun-Fat is Sgt. Li, an undercover cop who owes his continued employment in the Hong Kong Police force to his influential Uncle Jim. Everyone needs a hobby; his is adultery. Nothing unique there.
Conan Lee is Michael Cho, an up-and-coming cop who possesses the awesome ability to beat people up faster than the speed of sound...he hits a guy and we hear the sound effect several seconds later. Wow!
Together, these two men form a...a...well, um...they form a team of two men. Their conflict in approaches to cracking the drug case to which they are assigned makes them...uh...makes them...makes them not get along too well. Unlce Jim pairs them up because...since...uh...due to the fact that...er...well, he just DOES, okay?
Integral to the story are a brother and sister who get involved with the wrong people. He works the drug market to send money to his poor mama. She makes deliveries on his behalf to help keep him out of danger and when she gets uppity with Li he has to show her who's boss. Take THAT, bitch!
The siblings' antics cause all sorts of headaches for Li and Cho. The kind cured with violence, not aspirin.
The Lethal Weapon comparison for this movie is fairly accurate. There's a decent mix of action and humor with some drama mixed in. The problem is, none of these elements has a strong enough presence to really make you sit up and take notice. Li and Cho sacrificing their pants to keep a couple of schoolgirls from getting their pretty little heads blown off may be amusing, but that's pretty much the height of the film's comedic content. Similarly, you're not too likely to be moved to tears when so-and-so dies or when such-and-such happens and the action sequences fall a bit short of genuine excitement, except for a very cool chainsaw duel at the end.
Worth mentioning is the fact that this is one of the very few HK films I've seen that makes reference to other HK stars...not just Bruce Lee, as can be expected, since he has ceased to be a "star" and has entered the realm of myth and legend, but also Jackie Chan, Ti Lung, and a cheap (but perhaps deserved) shot at Anita Mui (or, more specifically, at Anita Mui's breasts).
It's a decent HK flick in many ways, but it won't make you write home to tell the folks about it. Worth watching, but not worth spending oodles of cash on.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 6/10