TIGER ON BEAT is a 1988 Chow Yun Fat cop movie that’s not an untouchable masterpiece like HARD BOILED, but a goofy ‘80s time capsule sort of in the tradition of Hollywood buddy cop action comedies of the era. It opens and closes with an appropriately cheesy hard rock theme song.
Chow’s character Francis Li is that type of cop we’re supposed to be charmed by for his careless attitude (until he gets serious about a case) and his relentless hitting on every woman he meets.
We first meet him in bed with a woman, their ankles handcuffed together, when her husband gets home. Somehow he convinces the husband that he’s a good samaritan doing CPR on her as a favor to him while he goes out drinking. Because he’s this smooth-talking, crazy-lying guy I thought for a minute it was gonna be his BEVERLY HILLS COP. There’s even a pretty great synth tune, but unfortunately it doesn’t turn out to be as prevalent in the movie as “Axel F. Theme” was.
Another ‘80s tradition: drinking raw eggs. Francis goes to some kind of cafeteria-like fast food place for what seems to be his routine of ordering “two breakfasts and two Horlicks.” It’s two trays of a small breakfast and a big glass of a malted milk drink that’s apparently popular in Hong Kong and other countries, plus an empty glass which he proceeds to crack seven raw eggs into. He chugs the eggs (Chow seems to really do it, although with one edit in the middle) and then the Horlicks, a health routine he claims was passed down from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan to Sylvester Stallone to Alain Delon to Ti Lung to him.
I like that slightly out of order lineage of action stars. We later see that Francis’s bedroom wall includes magazine cutouts of COBRA, ROCKY IV, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and COMMANDO (plus Madonna and some swimsuit models and stuff). I always remember when I first saw THE KILLER and my friend said Chow was supposed to be “the Sylvester Stallone of China” and I later decided it was because he sometimes dressed like Cobra. Now I know he has the poster in his bedroom! But he drives a goofy little yellow car that would probly cause Cobra to ride the bus.
Francis may idolize action stars, but his trademark style of Hawaiian shirt and visor (sometimes with sunglasses or cigarette) always made me think of Hunter S. Thompson. It should be called GONZO COP.
In the opening scene he seems to be confused about where he is and believe his wife has caught him cheating. But I guess that’s just a weird joke, because the only woman who seems to be in his life is his sister Mimi (Shirley Ng), who is there to disapprove of his behavior, for him to warn his new partner not to date, and to be kidnapped.
His new partner is Michael Tso (introducing Conan Lee), a younger, buffer, more dedicated cop who Francis recently met during an undercover situation where he wet himself in fear. He has to teach Michael to loosen up about things in order to win the trust of informants, and to not kick his neighbor in the face for being ugly.
Their case involves a heroin trafficker named “Poison Snake” Ping (Phillip Ko, EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER), his innocent sister Marydonna (Nina Li Chi, uncredited champagne-drinker in THE SEVENTH CURSE, DRAGON FROM RUSSIA, later married Jet Li) and a bunch of Australian gangsters. Apparently Gordon Liu and the aforementioned Ti Lung are in there too, but somehow I didn’t recognize them.
There’s more talking and comedy than I prefer, for example a whole thing about a gunmen splitting his shorts and they laugh at him so he makes them take their pants off. But it’s hard not to be entertained when the action kicks in. It’s very much in the Hong Kong style of the time and gets pretty nasty at times, like when a stick of dynamite goes off in a guy’s hand and turns it into shredded meat.
And, as the poster up there wisely shows off, there’s a chain saw duel. We’ve seen some of those before and this is not necessarily the best one (I’m partial to the one in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2), but it’s the only one I’ve seen done in the Hong Kong style, so it’s a limber, acrobatic fencing that also involves chewing through floors and grinding sparks from railings and bullet proof vests. There’s also a good sword fight with knives tied to rifles like bayonets. Francis spins his and it makes whooshy sound effects.
But the action highlight has got to be the gimmick where Francis ties a piece of rope to a shotgun and stands to the side of a window where the bad guys can’t see him, repeatedly tossing the gun out and yanking so it fires into the window.
Maybe someone here can explain the title to me. In some translations it’s called “TIGER ON THE BEAT,” so I assume the tiger is Francis (even though that seems unfair to Michael) and he’s “on the beat” because he’s a cop. But is it supposed to be some kind of play on Tiger Beat Magazine or something? I don’t think so because Francis is supposed to be older, not a young heartthrob. Or maybe Michael is the tiger? I guess I don’t know why somebody is a tiger.
This is the rare contemporary action movie from the great Shaw Brothers director/choreographer Lau Kar-leung (36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, HEROES OF THE EAST, DIRTY HO, EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER). Obviously he was a veteran at this point, but he still had five more movies in him: ACES GO PLACES 5, the unrelated TIGER ON BEAT II, DRUNKEN MASTER II, DRUNKEN MASTER III and DRUNKEN MONKEY.
Note: Unlike many Hong Kong films of the era, there is actually a blu-ray available and it has a very clean transfer. The subtitle translation isn’t great, but that’s okay. It’s got that special treat of parts that are in English that you can compare to the very different subtitles.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.