Tiger Cage


Jun 21, 2011

Tiger Cage (1988)
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Writers: Kwong Kim Yip and Wing-Fai Wong
Starring: Dodo Cheng, Simon Yam, Jackie Cheung and Donnie Yen

The Plot: Inspector Shirly Ho (Dodo Cheng) is a police woman who lives and breathes for the law. When her husband, and fellow policeman, is shot down in cold blood, her world is turned upside down. Things become even more chaotic in her life when she finds out that her husband was apparently a corrupt police officer. Her two friends Fan Shun-yu (Jackie Cheung) and Terry (Donnie Yen) start to do some digging and find out that their Sergeant, Uncle Te (Ng Man-Tat), is also a corrupt official and that may not be the end of the bad-roots within the HK police department. Will they manage to root them all out or will the corrupt officials put a stop to their quest for justice.

The Review
Tiger Cage may not be a widely talked about title, but it is one that I have been looking forward to for a long time now. As anyone who reads this site may have noticed, we at Varied Celluloid are most assuredly fans of Donnie Yen. Tiger Cage marks one of his earliest roles and shows the actor when he was still under the tutelage of Yuen Woo-ping, who also directed this film. Touted as Donnie Yen’s first time stepping into the choreographer/action director’s chair, it is a title that certainly marks an important step in his career but it is also a rather fun and inventive piece of action cinema from the glory day of Hong Kong action cinema. Made in the wake of of John Woo’s pioneering A Better Tomorrow, Tiger Cage is a mix of Kung Fu and heroic bloodshed excitement. Martial arts cinema, with gun-fu, directed by Yuen Woo-ping and features Donnie Yen as choreographer? Tell me you’re not excited!

Although Donnie isn’t the star of this film, he is certainly an attraction and part of the reason the film still has a degree of longevity. However, Donnie isn’t the first nor the last member of this epic cast to achieve international fame. Jackie Cheung is the true leading man here, while Donnie Yen serves as a strong supporting cast member. Cheung is likely best known for his role in the classic Wong Kar-wai film As Tears Go By. Cheung is a serviceable lead here and has his chance to shine whilst performing in the requisite melodrama that the heroic bloodshed genre often calls for. Amongst a cast of very over-the-top performers, Jackie Cheung manages to stand out as he displays a great reservoir of righteous indignation. Speaking of known scenery chewers, of course we have one of the crown holders in this department, Mr. Simon Yam. Yam is in classic form as he showcases his natural ability to play slimy and disturbed characters. Years before he would be known for starring in every single Hong Kong film produced, he was easily one of the best slime-balls in cinema.

The absolute star of Tiger Cage though is the tremendous action set pieces that punctuate the film several times during its run. The introduction to the film is easily the most insane sequence from the entire movie. A traveling gun fight that runs from several sets and culminates with a series of death-defying stunts, it is the stuff of internet-highlight-video fame. Amongst these is a tremendous fall from one roof to another that sees some poor stunt man being absolutely hammered as he lands in a very terrifying manner. Although Yuen Woo-ping wouldn’t direct many heroic bloodshed titles himself, the work he does here on Tiger Cage stands up very well next to the litany of other titles out there that try to emulate the John Woo formula. He manages to mix in the traditional martial arts alongside the use of modern weaponry, and the resulting action is superb.

However, if there’s an area that draws Tiger Cage down, it would be the convoluted plot which takes us through a by-the-numbers case of corruption and melodrama that has essentially defined this genre. Jackie Cheung and Dodo Cheng are great in the lead and they handle this drama with the skill of veterans, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of pathos involved here to suck the audience in. The characters tend to feel a bit hollow without a lot of personal tragedy or triumph for the audience to latch onto. When your big emotional montage toward the end is made up of generic and corny moments from just thirty minutes earlier in the movie… you don’t have a lot of character in your product. This lack of character is probably the one thing that holds this back from being a true “classic” piece of cult cinema.

The Conclusion
You get some brutal violence, some wicked martial arts and a wealth of entertaining ideas thrown against the wall, and most of it sticks! While it’s nothing spectacular in the grand scheme of things, if you’re looking for a quick dose of action and excitement (or you’re just finishing off Yuen Woo-ping’s filmography) you really can’t go wrong with Tiger Cage. It gets a solid three out of five.

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