What's Up, Tiger Lily?

Dir: Woody Allen + Senkichi Taniguchi
Star: Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tadao Nakamaru, Susumu Kurobe

Back in the days when Woody Allen actually made people laugh - at this point he was a stand-up comic - he took a Japanese gangster movies, spliced in additional footage from others in the series, then over-dubbed them with completely anachronistic dialogue, turning the plot into a search for the world's best egg-salad. Throw in some appearances by The Loving Spoonful (a popular beat combo of the time), an introduction in which Allen makes a confused attempt to explain what he was trying to do, and you've got something which appears to be a clear inspiration for MXC. There's not much point in going any deeper into the plot, since this spoof is clearly not concerned about such things in the slightest. Of course, it wasn't the last time Allen would be involved in satirizing the genre; the following year, he'd appear in the nonsensical Casino Royale: at least here, it seems likely the chaotic approach is deliberate.

The problem is, however, that it is likely equally self-indulgent; one senses Allen and his pals had a great old time putting this together, doing Peter Lorre impressions, etc. But there are just too many moments that fall flat to a modern viewer; there are beats in the script, pausing in the expectation of laughter dying down, that simply have tumbleweeds rolling across them. Unlike MXC, which dubs silly lines across what was a remarkably silly show to begin with, there is a sense here of laughing at the film, rather than with it, provoking a vaguely uneasy sense of racism, even if the original was a parody in itself. The closing credits which has Allen lying on a couch, watching an Asian girl strip, is also a bit creepy, given the whole Soon-yi thing a couple of decades later. There are occasional good lines, e.g. "If all of you in the audience who believe in fairies will clap your hands, then my gun will be magically filled with bullets." But I can't help thinking that the original film would likely be at least as entertaining.

[September 2010]

What's up, Soon-yi?
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