DVD review: The Taking of Tiger Mountain - director goes too far

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 11:02pm

Veteran director Tsui Hark has always been one for the visuals, and this reworking of Qu Bo's novel Tracks in the Snowy Forest is spectacular from its outset - in 3D or not - as his cameras shoot in and out of the action, set in the highlands of northeast China.

At its core, this is a rollicking adventure, set just after the end of the second world war while civil war was rearing its head across the land. We follow the exploits of a group of People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers as they are drawn into battle with the rabble led by the warlord Hawk (Tony Leung). He's up there on that mountain with a stash of guns and ammunition the Japanese have left behind, and is choosing which side to go with as the civil war plays out.

As has been the case throughout his career, Tsui is at his best with the lavish set pieces, the ferocious battles where his cameras dive in and out of the action like the bullets they sometimes trace. There's an old school feeling here - despite the often impressive use of computer-generated imagery - because of the famous opera that Tracks in the Snowy Forest obviously inspired. So there are plenty of overwrought expressions and high drama as people face their individual fates.

It's the mood of the piece that Tsui doesn't quite manage to master. We flit between the grim realities of PLA life, with its issues of brotherhood and bonding, to the comic-like world of the bandits, where everything is played to extremes. Leung comes buried under make-up and often seeming like he might be auditioning for an alternate superhero franchise. Such are his presence and his personality, though the film feels less of an experience when his Hawk is off-camera.

The director seems also not to know when he should have just walked away, because there's a "second ending" tacked on for reasons unknown (leftover budget perhaps?) and a few links to the modern world that might best have been left on the cutting-room floor. The film is at its very best when Tsui just lets the action take over.

Extras: interviews with director and cast; trailers

The Taking of Tiger Mountain Zhang Hanyu, Kenny Lin, Tony Leung Ka-fai Director: Tsui Hark