A historical account of a battle in the Chinese civil war, Qu Bo's 1957 novel "Tracks in the Snowy Forest" spawned the Peking opera "Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy." A film adaptation by Xie Tieli ensued in 1970, followed by a Brian Eno recording in 1974. Now "The Taking of Tiger Mountain" gets the 3-D blockbuster film treatment by Tsui Hark, better known in the U.S. for a pair of Jean-Claude Van Damme duds.
In 1946, folk hero Yang Zirong (played by Zhang Hanyu) reports for duty in Harbin but soon goes rogue and deserts his fellow People's Liberation Army troops to infiltrate the bandits — led by Hawk (Tony Leung Ka-fai) — who ruled the region.
Tsui will try anything once in 3-D. Splatters of blood travel in bullet-time, and the requisite ridiculousness — like action scenes with skis and zip-lines — characterize Tsui's work. But bookending the story with the 2015-set prologue and epilogue turns out to be his most inspired touch.
The story itself is without a trace of subtlety or ambiguity, depicting communists as virtuous, principled, altruistic and strategic. Their foes are insidious, covetous, sadistic and draconian. For audiences unaccustomed to state-controlled Chinese media, rooting for the commies is a lot to ask. So when Tsui revises and redoes the climactic showdown for the sake of entertainment value, you wonder if the Hong Kong-based filmmaker writes off the whole thing as revisionist history written by victors.
"The Taking of Tiger Mountain."
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 2 hours, 16 minutes.