Friday, July 25, 2014

A Man Called Tiger (Leng Mian Hu, 1973)

What's going on folks? Hai! Karate is back once again with another martial arts film for all you fans of the genre. We're taking a look at another Jimmy Wang Yu picture from 1973, A Man Called Tiger!!! This Golden Harvest film also stars James Tien, Tien Feng, Maria Yi, Okada Kawai and Yuko Minakaze. Lo Wei is in the director's chair and does a bit of double duty acting as well.

A Man Called Tiger opens up rather quickly as Ayako(Kawai)sings before a packed nightclub crowd in Kyoto, Japan. Among the listeners is Chin Fu(Yu), a Chinese cat just enjoying the vibe. He's a magnet for the ladies; he turns away a free drink and Ayako comes up to him and asks him if he's seen her father. Part of the reason she came to Kyoto from Hokkaido was to find him since he went missing. She goes back to sing and is beset by a gang of thugs looking to extort her for yen. Chin Fu intervenes, gets slapped and lays on one of the wildest-ass slaps I've seen. When YOU see it, you'll know what I'm talking about. He escorts Ayako out and the same thugs surround them on the street but before they get to really tangle, Chin's landlady, Li Hua(Minakaze)rolls up and gets rid of them. She drops them back to the hotel and proceeds to come on to Chin who in the span of 3 minutes, is smoking a loosie while flexing his arms with an exercise bar then swigging a beer. I.SHIT.YOU.NOT.

Li Hua has ties to Shimizu, who appararently is a local Yakuza oyabun(boss). It was his thugs that Chin beat up, but Shimizu offers him the position to be his right hand man. Pretty charitable. See, Shimizu has been dealing with competition from another boss, Yamamoto(Feng). And he sees Chin as the perfect weapon to get some payback. It isn't long before Chin gives beatdowns to Yamamoto's men with crew in toe. This rampage brings him across an old friend, another Chinese named Lin Hui Ming(Tien) who wont pay up. He smashes all the thugs until Chin Fu gets into it with him in a wild contest. Chin beats him, and lets him off. Later, he sends Ayako over with money to help him. Strange? Not until Ming and Chin meet. It turns out that they both had the same teacher - Chin's father. And that Chin's father had allegedly gambled away the overseas fund money and committed suicide in disgrace. Chin doesn't buy and so all of this is an extreme infiltration job to find out what exactly happened. In the process, he'll get help from Ming and others, but each move takes him that closer to being found out.

And just when you thought things couldn't get even more twisted up, while Chin gets a helping hand from yet ANOTHER woman(seriously. she gets played by him and still helps him escape. take THAT Breezy),it turns out that there's more to the beef between Shimizu and Yamamoto than he realized. It brings in a young woman named Emi(Yi)and may include not only her father, but a certain singer's missing father. The suspense builds in ambush after ambush until a final bloody showdown at a high-stakes gambling match. Who survives?

A Man Called Tiger is notable for fans of martial arts flicks for a couple of reasons. First off, this was intended to be Bruce Lee's next picture after Fist Of Fury, known in the West as The Chinese Connection. But it wasn't to be due to the falling out Bruce had with Lo Wei, leading to his staunch refusal to work with Wei ever again. Lee then formed his own company, Concord Productions and went on to make The Way Of The Dragon. And you know how that went. Wei, looking to get this film made tapped Jimmy Wang Yu for the lead. More to Mr. Wang Yu later on. Another point is that this film was shot entirely on location in Kyoto, Japan. You don't get that sense being that most of the film is shot on indoor sets save for a few exterior scenes that include a car chase. The big notable point is that this film was looking to draw upon Wang Yu's box office appeal from his days doing spy flicks for Shaw Studios. (That period was brief, and inspired entirely by the James Bond craze that swept up the world in the 1960's.)And when you watch this movie, you see how Wang Yu kind of plays into the aloof ass-kicking hero who's a 'babe magnet'. Now does he pull it off? Barely. Especially when you get to the scenes with Liako, one of Yamamoto's women. That whole kissing scene will make you go WTF? Going back to the locale of the film, it's also interesting that Wei chose to cast local Japanese actors and actresses. Okada Kawai is the most recognizable face among the bunch. She was a film veteran, with a role in Foundry Town(1962) that was a Cannes Film Festival entry. Kawai also starred in one or two TV series. She's now a known businesswoman throughout Japan.

The film is a bit rushed. Trying to cram an intricate plot in is one thing, but some of the jump cuts are a bit haphazard. But given that Bruce dropped out and Wang Yu stepped in, it may have been a matter of getting the film done in time and in accordance with studio budget. But the fighting action is great! Han Ying-Chieh, who was also a key player in this movie and is a recognizable villain, handled the fight choreography very well here. One scene that will get you to bug out is the cable car scene. Yes. There's an extended fight scene on a cable car high over Kyoto. Yes. A cable car. Now of course, this predates a similar scene in the James Bond flick Moonraker by three years. What gives this scene the edge? Jimmy Wang Yu JUMPS OUT OF THE CABLE CAR. See it for yourself. The other fight scenes have a compact electricity to them. There's also a bit of familiarity to them. Unfortunately one of those scenes involves James Tien at the end. The acting overall is aight. Wang Yu softens a bit here and there but remains in a mode where he's Sooperman Lover(shoutout to Redman)one moment and a whirlwind of kicks and punches the next. James Tien does all right here in his limited moments. Lee Kwan gets maybe ten minutes tops as the bartender in Ayako's club. Which is fine 'cause as I stated in the last post, it's part of his portfolio. Okada Kawai plays a bittersweet role as Ayako with a slight touch of innocence. Tien Feng as Yamamoto looks like a slick gangster, although his cigars in the movie are comical as hell. If you ask me, A Man Called Tiger is an okay flick with enjoyable action and a decent enough plot to follow along. It's available now via Fortune Star DVD and VCD and online if you can find it.


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