One of the staples of action cinema is the buddy cop films, and the Hong Kong film industry is as inundated with them as Hollywood. Whether it’s John Woo behind the camera or Jackie Chan, Mel Gibson, or Eddie Murphy in front of it, the formula remains the same. A particularly enjoyable entry is 1988’s “Tiger on the Beat”, starring Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee, who incidentally bears a striking resemblance to a young Jackie Chan. “Tiger on the Beat” is a comedy first and a crime drama second, and is a lighthearted take on the usual gritty potboiler. The film features all the usual characters, including the cagey veteran, the hot-headed upstart, the stern but kind-hearted commanding officer, and of course the corrupt but pragmatic police commissioner.
The film revolves around veteran Hong Kong CID inspector Francis (Fat), who is grudgingly teamed up with new hotshot Michael (Lee) in order to root out a violent gang of cocaine smugglers. And that’s about the extent of the story. The rest of the film is composed of one crazy action set piece after another, interspersed with silly banter between the two cops and Marydonna, the sister of one of the drug couriers, played by the busty Nina Li Chi.
The treat of “Tiger on the Beat” is that nearly all the furious action is presented with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and the situations the cops find themselves in are set up to garner laughs, from their banter with their captain to their pursuit of the criminals. In one such scene, Francis is taken hostage by a fleeing thief and soils his pants before passing out in front of fellow cops. Later, the dynamic duo corners a drug courier who takes two women hostage after ripping the seat of his boxer shorts. Not wanting to be immodest, the courier manages to get both cops to throw him their pants so that the remainder of the pursuit involves them running around in their underwear. The climactic battle with the drug gang features everything from bungee cord shotgun slinging to an insane chainsaw duel, essentially taking the ending of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and cranking it up a notch. The final 20 minutes feels tacked on, but the battle is so over the top that no one will care.
This is the charm of “Tiger on the Beat”; while it’s also a gritty action film, director Chia-Liang Liu does a great job of keeping the mood light and balancing hard-hitting violence with slapstick. And audiences are so used to seeing Chow Yun Fat as the silent, brooding avenging angel in the films of John Woo that it’s a treat to see him playing against type.
Unfortunately the script’s thematic schizophrenia does leave a few strands blowing in the wind. The drug gang itself is not entirely convincing. Led by a British kingpin and his flamboyant right-hand man, the gang is neither ruthless nor organized enough to keep control over an international trafficking network. The poorly developed romantic threads between Francis and Marydonna, as well as Michael and Francis’ mousy sister, are so obviously thrown in for the sole purpose of balancing out the action that their amorous interactions come across as forced and unconvincing.
However, these are minor quibbles, as “Tiger on the Beat” is undoubtedly supposed to be little more than popcorn entertainment. An action film should entertain and “Tiger on the Beat” delivers in spades.
Chia-Liang Liu (director) / Kwok Chi Tsang (screenplay)
CAST: Yun-Fat Chow …. Francis Li
Nina Li Chi …. Marydonna
Conan Lee …. Michael Tso
Chia Hui Liu …. Hitman