Lately, ATV's kung fu and martial arts genre seem much more interesting than the flicks that TVB has been making. Though ATV's newest series, The Ten Tigers of Guangdong, is far from perfect, it is certainly more original than the Jin Yong remakes (i.e. Flying Fox '99) that TVB has been releasing. "Tigers" has gathered together a cast including notable actors as Stephen Au, Annie Man, Ng Yuk Sau, Lam Chi Ho, and others. The storyline begins by following the escapades of Wong Ting Hau (Stephen Au) as he moves from rural village into the big city in Guangdong. One by one, the other nine tigers make their appearances and their stories are also woven in.
Sadly, this is Stephen Au's last movie with ATV as he moves to the outskirts of ATV to further his acting career. Yet while Stephen Au's role is apparently the main lead, his story is also the most drawn out and dull. Quite a lot of scenes zoom in on his sad facial expression or that of his lover, Dong Chi (Alice Chan), looking sorrowful, without any dialogue whatsoever for at least a full minute.
Frankly, some of the more interesting characters that make the series worth watching are So Chan (Lam Chi Ho) and Leung Kwan (?), who are both played by Taiwanese guest actors. Despite the dubbing of their voices, their acting ability is apparent. Lam Chi Ho plays a charming So Chan as he tries to woo his love interest, Dao Yal Yeen (Claire Yiu) and also as the infamous So Beggar later on in the story. Claire, who won third place in ATV's beauty pageant last year, has certainly stolen the spotlight this time from 98's winner, Losa Law Lai Sha, who plays Leung Kwan's wife.
What keeps "Tigers" from being one of ATV's top series is the lack of action and fighting sequences almost immediately following the beginning. The story lapses seemingly forever in mundane events as the plot thickens at a snail's pace. Perhaps this is a ploy of TV directors to stuff more time into a series to make bigger bucks, but for viewers like me, it just means more fast-forwarding of the tape. Toward the end, the viewer is finally appeased with some nifty fight scenes and the story kicks forward, along with the emergence of a bigger theme--nationalism.
The ending of "Tigers" is a huge disappointment. The ten tigers reach a compromise to ally and fight against foreign invaders--quite patriotic but also quite lame in their attempts. The tigers lament over how China is clannish, how the government is corrupt, how Chinese are fighting Chinese, and yet nothing is accomplished or resolved by their actions. Leung Kwan also dies in the most frusterated way--not in a fair fight but from booby traps set up by Ma Tang, who could be considered the main villain in the movie. Ma Tang, knows no martial arts whatsoever yet he defeats the powerful Leung Kwan by slyness. His deviousness and traitorous actions is like the symbol of the scums that plagued China in a century of dishonor (Opium Wars).
In a nutshell, "Tigers" leads up to what one would expect to be the "big issue" (unity of Chinese people) and then gives up completely because it can't be resolved (and never was in history) and instead, returns to focus on the love relationships. Events happen in the movie but they do not fit together to connect.