CID Sergeant Li (Chow Yun-Fat) is not your average run-of-the-mill cop. On top of being a hopeless womanizer and a bit of a sissy, he has his own distinct way of doing things and nobody, least of all his boss, is going to convince him to change his ways. His uniform of choice is a colorful Hawaii shirt - which he ties at the front with a knot - and a bizarre sunshade cap. He drives an orange mini-car with racing stripes.
This particular morning has more than its usual share of problems in store for our blundering crime fighter. Two robbers hold up a pair of Wall Street types in front of a bank in downtown Hong Kong and steal their briefcase, but the police is nearby and soon the sound of gunshot shatter the morning silence. One of the thieves is immediately shot, while the other escapes in a hail of bullets, with rookie cop Michael Tso (Conan Lee) in hot pursuit. The thief attempts to hide in a diner, but when he's cornered he takes a hostage, which happens to be sergeant Li, who has just enjoyed a quiet breakfast. A Mexican stand-off is unavoidable and in the midst of the ensuing drama, Li wets himself! After the situation is defused, and the thief is behind bars, Li lodges a complaint against Officer Tso with his boss, who responds by making the two cops partners.
Meanwhile a drug deal between American and Chinese gangsters goes awry, when the drugs turn out to be fake. One of the gangsters is shot, and another gangster, known as Poison Snake Ping, is charged with recovering the real drugs.
Shortly thereafter the police discovers the dead body of the drug dealer, and it's clear that there's more to this murder than meets the eye. Thus Li and Tso are put in charge of this case. They must catch the killer, catch the drug lord, save the girl (yes of course there's a girl, did I forget to mention that?), and save the day. While they're busy with this, Poison Snake Ping is trying desperately to square things with his boss, and he grows more desperate by the hour...
To those of us who got our introduction to Asian Cinema with the films of John Woo, his regular lead Chow Yun-Fat is as much a guarantee for quality as Woo himself. Chow is SO cool. He's charming as hell and looks unbeatable sailing through the air in slow-motion with a gun in each hand. His tenure as God of Action was over long ago, so revisiting his old films is a reassuring blast from the past. Performances as loose-cannon-cop Tequila in "Hard-Boiled" or cool-calm-collected hitman in "The Killer" are legendary, but Chow also has great comic timing, as he demonstrates in "God of Gambler" (certain parts of it) and "Once a Thief". It's obvious that Chow enjoys doing these lighter films. He clearly has a ball goofing around looking silly and leaving the action stuff to others, which is why this film is such a perfect vehicle for him. Either way you look at it, this is Chow's show.
"Tiger on the Beat" is a funny, charming little film. Yes, I said funny. And yes, I also said charming. "Tiger" is NOT the non-stop action movie the trailer will have you believe, though it does have an amazing energy. The film consists of 75% comedy and 24% action (The last 1% is a strangely unsettling scene where Li and Tso in the process of arresting a suspect somehow manage to get their pants off. I won't mention it again).
Even though the action is limited in quantity, the quality is unquestionable. We have the old school shoot-outs, where people stick guns straight in each other's faces and fire, not once, but five times! And whenever someone gets riddled with bullets they just happen to wear a white shirt, so the blood really shows! Also, the Kung Fu fighting is done real-for-real, by people who actually know how to fight, not by glossy movie stars whose limp style has to be supported by computer generated effects. These are the old school type of fights, complete with exaggerated grunts and plenty of fake "hitting" sounds.
There are several good action or fight sequences in the film.
The bar fight between Ti Lung and Conan Lee early on is a great appetizer for what's to come. A good old-fashioned fight scene, without any fancy tricks, just two guys, at the top of their game, pounding away at each other. Lovely.
Later we get an impressive car chase where Lee is hanging on to the bad guy's car, while Chow follows him in his mini. Lee jumps back and forth between the two cars in some death defying acrobatics that remain spectacular, even by today's standards.
But there's no question that the absolute high-point is the legendary climactic chainsaw fight between Lee and Gordon Liu. Imagine a regular (if there is such a thing) sword fight between two guys, replace the swords with chainsaws and you'll have some idea how this final reel showdown plays out. These two guys simply tear the room apart as they try to chop each other up. You have to see it to believe it! It's an insane sequence and a perfect culmination to the film.
You gotta love these good old fashioned Hong Kong films. They sure don't make 'em like they used to anymore.
"Tiger on the Beat" is an irresistible action-comedy from Hong Kong's Golden Age. Some people find this type of films unwatchable, and there's no getting around the fact that they are definitely an acquired taste, especially considering that there's nowhere near the amount of action one would expect in a film from this period.
Another thing to consider is that Chow Yun-Fat - though he's prominently featured on DVD covers and posters with a shotgun - doesn't really get to do much gunplay. He just goofs around and whines all the time. Naturally he does that with so much panache that it's easy to forgive. I don't mind watching him chew up a whole film like this, one scene after another, because when you get right down to it, Chow is just plain hypnotic to watch, no matter what he does. And that - more than anything else - is the reason you should watch "Tiger on the Beat".