In the late 1980’s into the early 90’s, the short lived D&B Films made a series of kinetic action movies that caught the attention of fans of the genre globally. As Hong Kong action cinema gravitated to a more modern style, the mixture of martial arts and gunplay these films displayed were far in advance of anything the west was producing.
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An anti drug squad headed by Brother Lung (Leung Kar Yan) succeeds in taking out most of a drug syndicate in an explosive shoot out and only narrowly failing to capture the main trafficker Swatow Hung (Wong Lung Wei). Lung is about to retire and marry fellow cop Shirley Ho (Carol Cheng). After a party attended by friends and teammates, Fan Chun-yau (Jackie Cheung), Terry (Donnie Yen), and Uncle Tat (Ng Man-tat), Lung is killed by Hung outside his house. Seeking revenge, the rest of the team supported by Inspector Michael Wong (Simon Yam) use excessive force to track him down. After a harbour shootout, they succeed, but find that the true villains may be closer to home. A video tape shot by Fan Chun-yau proves the catalyst to betrayal and bloodshed as the film heads to a violent conclusion, as those wronged seek retribution.
The great filmmaker Sam Fuller believed in having an opening scene that grabbed the attention. Certainly “Tiger Cage” does that with an explosive start as the shootout moves outside and the body count rises. The pace barely slackens after that with betrayals, plot twists and a true cinema of vengeance finale.
The action in this movie is for the most part high calibre. The first of the three D&B productions to feature Donnie Yen being directed by Yuen Woo-ping, his night time confrontation on the beach is the martial arts highlight. Martial arts and gunplay can be tricky partners but the opening sequences show how it can work and the Yuen clan choreograph a scene of pure mayhem, as the battle moves to the streets of Hong Kong. The only real weakness is exposed in the final reel where Carol Cheng and Simon Yam are clearly being extensively doubled due to their limitations in screen fighting, which can be a bit distracting.
Acting wise, the performances are all adequate as character development is never the central part of these movies. Jacky Cheung brings some intensity to the final scenes and Simon Yam is as smooth as always. It’s interesting to see Ng Man Tat in a straight role prior to his rebirth as Stephen Chow’s comedy sidekick and to watch veteran marital arts actors Wong Lung Wei and Leung Kar Yan transition into the modern day roles with relative ease.
Plot-wise, “Tiger Cage” is perfunctory. The mcguffin of the video tape being the central point of a narrative geared to get to the next set piece.
Yuen Woo-ping was never the great visual stylist in his movies but always has a clarity when showing the action. The film is brutal in places with a couple of shocking death scenes that play into the vengeful conclusion as the narrative darkens considerably. As a movie, it’s not perfect and certainly rough around the edges. That, though, is part of its charm. In an era of glossy, over stylised movies where editing distracts rather than enhances the action unfolding, it is refreshing to watch in retrospect. lt’s only because the rest of the action is so good that the final reel disappoints a little. An intense full-on action movie from the golden era. Fully recommended.