Written by yip Yat-Fong
Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng and Wong Ping
Hong Kong, 1974
In a lonesome little tavern one of the patrons is brutally attacked by a hoard of violent thugs. The target of the onslaught defends himself as best he can before ultimately being undone by a fatal stab in the back. The leader of the murderous troop hailing from the Village of Tigers, Hu Jiao (Wang Hsieh), quickly realizes the man they believed to be Master Ba (Tung Lam) from the famous Ba family is but an unfortunate soul whose identity the Tigers mistook. Later on, another member from the Ba family, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) accidentally makes the acquaintance of a wandering hero named Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua), the latter whom is accosted by thieves only to be saved by Ying Hua. Soon, the fates of Ba family, the Village of Tigers and the wild card player Luo Hong-Xun will be tied together in an attempt by the Tigers to usurp the Ba estate by using Luo as a scapegoat for the murder of Master Ba.
Arguing that a filmmaker’s interest is misplaced or misguided is an extremely presumptuous accusation coming from people who did not partake in the planning and creation of a given movie. Who is to say what exactly a director, producer or screenwriter had in mind when playing their part in the production of a story, especially for these Shaw Brothers films, the anecdotal productions stories of which are difficult to find. With that said, it is tempting to risk such a criticism when evaluating Village of Tigers from the directing duo of Griffin Yueh Feng and Wong Ping. The movie’s story is so aimless, its stabs at creating any sort of mystery or tension so flat and uninspired that one cannot help but wonder if the decision to have two directors helm the project proved a miscalculation due to conflicting intents.
At the very least, the film begins on an interesting premise by having a character who looks the part of the hero fall at the hands of a band of villains, only for it be to revealed that the departed was not in fact the antagonists’ actual target. From there the viewer is presented with, in rapid succession, three of the film’s most important figures, the real Master Ba, his sister Ying Hua and the vagabond hero Hong-Xun. In fact, the early sequence in which happenstance has the fates of the latter two intertwine is lighthearted and shows off their charisma even though their eventual alliance starts off on rocky waters. The dynamic between brother and sister is also seamlessly established, as Ying Hua frowns upon her brother’s buddying ties to the Village of Tigers, a band of outlaws whose notoriety should have the male sibling know better than to hang out with them. Character dynamics, at this early stage in the picture, are comfortably established.
It is from this point onward that the film loses whatever steam it accumulated up until then. The main issue stems from the fact that most of the remaining plot is simply more set-up, with most of it going completely to waste through lazy execution. The Bas matriarchal figure, Granny Ba, is introduced during her birthday party, the purposes of which is difficult to ascertain in the case of both the character and the birthday party. True enough, grandmothers rarely play an important role in these pictures, therefore making this one’s presence an interesting curiosity, but ultimately she serves little purpose in advancing the story, nor do her actions or behaviour help distinguish her from the hoard of vengeful leader figures viewers have seen countless times. Another misstep the filmmakers commit is eschewing of any true tension that might of risen when two factions who should be on amicable terms with one another (the Ba family and hero Hong-Xun) are at a standstill once Hong-Xun stands accused of murdering Master Ba. By making it plain and clear the Tigers are in fact the ones who poisoned Master Ba, the near twenty-minute stretch of running time when Hong-Xun is in the target of an apoplectic Granny Ba is ultimately a complete waste of time. There are also other scenes with yet another Ba woman that suggest a marriage looming on the horizon that adds strictly nothing to the overall film. Essentially, there are a handful of scenes in Village of Tigers where the viewer may be asking themselves why said scenes were not done away with from the final cut given the questionable nature of their relative importance.
More to the point, it never feels as if Village of Tigers has a story, something vastly different from plot. Plot is about how characters get from point A to point B and all the way to point Z. Story pertains to the development of said characters, how they change, how they grow, the themes one can extrapolate from the plot, etc. What exactly is the story of Village of Tigers? Good question. The film is more plot based than anything else. One can definitely tell that a movie is devoid of much of a game plan when it has to introduce completely new villains with 15 minutes to go in order to stir up some rousing action since not much of interest else is really happening. Even the head honcho baddie himself is an utter waste, content to oversee the battle perched from his balcony before finally jumping into the fray…only to be killed quite handedly minutes later.
Director Griffin Yueh Feng has proven himself more than a worthy filmmaker with more polished and confidently managed projects. Even another one of his co-directing duties (The Magnificent Swordsman) is far and away superior and more cohesive than this effort. Village of Tigers is most certainly on the lower end of the scale both with respect to Griffin’s filmography and the Shaw catalogue at large.