The Battle of Tiger Mountain (Zhu qu weihu shan) (2014)

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Released 18-Nov-2015

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure Trailer-x 2 for other films
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2014
Running Time 137:06 (Case: 141)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Tsui Hark
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Lin Gengxin
Tony Leung
Zhang Hanyu
Yu Nan
Tong Liya



Case Alpha-Transparent
RPI ? Music Wu Wai-lap


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, whole new sequence after credits start

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Plot Synopsis

     The Battle of Tiger Mountain ( Zhi qu wehu shan), also known as The Taking of Tiger Mountain, is legendary Hong Kong director/writer/producer Tsui Hark’s take on events which, more or less, occurred in north-eastern China in the winter of 1946. These events were portrayed in a 1957 novel by Qu Bo Tracks in the Snowy Forest which proved to be so popular that a revolutionary era Peking Opera was written and performed about the events, the opera later filmed as Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy; parts of the film of the opera are used by Tsui in the modern sections with which The Battle of Tiger Mountain starts and ends. This story was thus already very popular and well known in China prior to this film.

     The majority of The Battle of Tiger Mountain takes place in 1946. The Japanese have surrendered but China is in the middle of a civil war between the Communists of Mao Tse-tung and the Nationalist KMT of Chiang Kai-shek. Bandits, such as the group led by Hawk (an almost unrecognisable Tony Leung), control large swathes of territory, robbing and burning villages and abducting women. Hawk operates from a fort and arsenal located on Tiger Mountain and into the area comes a small squad of Communist PLA soldiers led by Captain 203 (Lin Gengxin); their orders are to protect the villagers and somehow defeat Hawk. The squad is soon joined by intelligence officer Yang Zirong (Zhang Hanyu) and nurse Bai Ru (Tong Liya).

     After a skirmish with some of Hawk’s bandits the squad discover some villagers who had been hiding, including a young boy Knotti whose father had been killed and his mother abducted by Hawk’s men. The soldiers also capture Luan (Du Yiheng), Hawk’s spy in the village, and set about fortifying the area to ambush the bandits when they return. But Yang has an alternative strategy: he decides to disguise himself as a bandit and infiltrate Hawk’s HQ on Tiger Mountain to find out if it has any weaknesses that can be exploited by the PLA. On Tiger Mountain Yang manages to win Hawk’s confidence; he also discovers that Knotti’s mother Qinglian (Yu Nan) is alive and Hawk’s unwilling concubine. When the bandits attack the PLA in the village, Luan escapes to Tiger Mountain. Yang must play a dangerous game of bluff and counterbluff while gathering information for the PLA attack on Tiger Mountain that will occur on New Year’s Eve.

     Tsui is coming back to form of late after, for him, a bit of a lean spell. First known for producing some of John Woo’s best films, such as The Killer (1989) and A Better Tomorrow I & II (1986, 1987), as well as martial arts masterpieces such as Iron Monkey (1993), Tsui also directed Jet Li in the fabulous Once Upon a Time in China trilogy (I 1991, II 1992, III 1993). More recently, his eagerly awaited Seven Swords (2005) received a mixed reaction, however Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010) marked a return to big, opulent, entertaining productions. Tsui has also embraced 3D technology in films such as Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011), and he once again utilises 3D in The Battle of Tiger Mountain, although the 3D version of the film has not been released in western markets.

     The Battle of Tiger Mountain is epic filmmaking, running almost 140 minutes, a length which the film struggles to accommodate. The opening battle between the PLA squad and the bandits is what Tsui does best. This is a spectacular fight in the snow, inside and around buildings and railway carriages with guns and grenades which includes chaotic action and 3D effects; bullets fly straight at the camera and 360 degree camera pans spin around bodies flying in slow motion, grenade explosions in stop motion, bullet hits and ricochets, blood spirting and riders shot from their saddles. Then, for a while, the action disappears. The Battle of Tiger Mountain does always look beautiful, the snow clad mountains and forests stunningly shot by cinematographer Sung Fai Choi, but in essence during the lengthy running time there are only three set piece battles as well as a lot of talk. The length of the film is not helped by the decision to bookend the main story with a pretty pointless modern section or by the fact that, after the end credits commence, there occurs what is in effect an alternative ending featuring a fight between Yang and Hawk on a bi-plane which includes some very dodgy CGI and 3D.

     3D effects and CGI occur throughout the film: the flight of a hawk, throwing knives, bullets, rocks and debris fly into the frame at frequent intervals. CGI enhancement is a staple of epic filmmaking these days and can be used to open out scenes and produce stunts that are too dangerous for humans and some in The Battle of Tiger Mountain, such as the attack of the animatronic but CGI enhanced tiger (provided by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) on Yang, are well staged and exciting. However other CGI enhancement to fires and explosions, with flying rocks and debris, are fairly mundane.

     When The Battle of Tiger Mountain gets into full on action mode it is loud, chaotic and exuberant, such as during the climactic attack by the PLA on Tiger Mountain which involves a tank, machine guns, a cannon, bazookas, grenades, bullets whizzing past, ricochets, a large body count, explosions and general destruction and mayhem.

     Outside of the action, The Battle of Tiger Mountain feels overlong and while it always looks beautiful the characters seem dwarfed by the landscape and spectacle. It probably does not help that western audiences are not familiar with the period, the source novel or the real people as much is not really explained. However, The Battle of Tiger Mountain was very popular in China and it currently is the 12th highest grossing Chinese film of all time. And, whatever else one may say, Tsui is a master at delivering loud, exciting and colourful action sequences.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Battle of Tiger Mountain is 16x9 enhanced and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, contrary to the DVD cover which states the film is 2.35:1. The IMDb indicates that the original theatrical ratio is 2.35:1 but I am in two minds here. The Region 3 Hong Kong DVD and the Region 1 US DVD (as well as the Region A Blu-ray) are all in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and I must say that I did watch the framing of the film more closely than I usually do and I could not see any instances where two people having a conversation, for example, were not fully within the frame. The framing of other scenes also looked fine, so until I have more information I think the jury is still out.

     Detail in the print of The Battle of Tiger Mountain is excellent, although it is clear that the filmmakers have digitally manipulated the colours. Set in winter in a snowy landscape the colour palate is predominantly grey/ blue and white. This is also not a costume drama, so the uniforms and bandits’ clothing is all fairly drab. However, the reds of explosions and fire-balls are very red and glossy indeed, and vivid red lighting also dominates interior colour schemes, such as Hawk’s HQ. Blacks are intense, shadow detail very good.

     I did not see any artefacts, even during fast motion, and marks were absent although the Chinese end titles shimmered a lot.

    The white American English subtitles are burnt in, even for the couple of lines of English dialogue early in the film.

     The layer change at 69:24 created a pause just after the start of a scene.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 at the lowly 192 Kbps.

     Despite the low Kbps, this is a strident and enveloping audio track although it lacks some depth. The dialogue seems fine and was centred, while the surrounds and rears were constantly in use for both panning and directional effects including engines, shots, ricochets, falling debris and bullet hits, explosions, music and tiger growls! The subwoofer provided appropriate support for the cannon shots, explosions, engines, falling rocks and general crashes.

     The score by Wu Wai-lap sounded martial, big and noisy and so suited the film.

     Lip synchronisation seemed fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Trailers

     On start-up trailers for Kung Fu Jungle (1:44) and The Assassin (2:02) play. The same trailers can also be selected from the menu.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     As noted above the Region 3 HK DVD and the Region 1 US DVD (as well as the Region A Blu-ray) are all in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio but they add as extras 20 minutes of interviews with Tsui and cast members plus a trailer. I guess the interviews give the edge to the US DVD, but it hardly seems worth importing.

     Despite the film being shot in 3D, there is no 3D Blu-ray release in the west. Yesasia.com lists a Region A Hong Kong 3D release with the same interviews, however the site does not provide details of the aspect ratio, which is a pity; I would love to know what it is. English subtitles are available, at least for the feature.

Summary

     Tsui Hark has had a long and fruitful career stretching back decades. He has won three HK film awards (one for producing A Better Tomorrow and two for directing, Once Upon a Time in China, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame) and he can still do spectacle and action as well as any director working today; he has also embraced technology including CGI and 3D to continue to produce films that are colourful, loud and exciting.

     The Battle of Tiger Mountain feels overlong, and western audiences not familiar with the source novel or the characters may struggle, but when the film explodes into its action sequences it is loud, chaotic and exciting, with some nice CGI and 3D effects adding to the fun.

     The technical aspects of the DVD presentation are open to question but in practice the video and audio are fine. Extras are only trailers for a couple of other films.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, November 27, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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