Guitar-strumming songstress Ayako Yoshida (Okada Kawai) is onstage in a packed nightclub, crooning a melancholy tune about lost love, when she is rudely heckled by a group of gangsters demanding protection money. Not one to sit idly when faced with a damsel in distress, Chin Fu (Jimmy Wang Yu), a suave Chinese kung fu expert visiting Japan, unleashes a whirlwind of ass-kicking fury. As they walk home together, Ayako tells Chin Fu how she is searching for her long-lost father, until a motorcycle gang ambush the duo, intent on avenging their yakuza bosses. After witnessing Chin Fu’s impressive cycle-smashing high kicks, gangster’s moll Miss Chang (Maria Yi Yi) curtails the fight, seemingly wowed by his all-round manliness. She puts him in touch with yakuza boss Shimizu, who wants Chin Fu on his side against rival Yamamoto (Tien Feng). Overnight, Chin Fu transforms from righteous hero to amoral yakuza asshole. His first gig: kicking the crap out of Liu Han Ming (James Tin Jun), a fellow Chinese kung fu expert and restaurateur who refuses to pay protection money. However, shortly afterwards, Chin Fu returns Han Ming’s money and explains he is working undercover as a yakuza to uncover the identity of the man who killed his father.
The story goes director Lo Wei originally intended this film to mark his third collaboration with Bruce Lee. Their’s was always a fractious relationship, but by this time Bruce was sick of the self-aggrandising director and promptly bailed to write, direct and star in Way of the Dragon (1972) instead. So Lo took his script to the second biggest star at Golden Harvest - though few would have the guts to say that to his face - Jimmy Wang Yu, as a follow-up to their previous action outing the excellent Seaman No. 7 (1973). Once again the plot places Jimmy in Japan, which is ironic given the anti-Japanese sentiment was so prevalent throughout his subsequent films you would swear he bore a lasting grudge against the land of the rising sun. On the other hand, in recent years Jimmy has been touring Japanese film festivals, citing Nipponese cinema as a significant influence on his work. Go figure.
Sadly, lightning did not strike twice with A Man Called Tiger. It is a sorry misfire wherein Lo Wei’s sloppy direction makes a right old hash of a promising plot that scores points for ambition but winds up simply confusing. Characters enter and exit with equal abruptness, with not one but three female leads (two of them searching for missing fathers!), all madly in love with mucho macho Jimmy and virtually interchangeable. The film’s alternate title: The Pursuit of Fathers suggests this was intended as a far weightier work of melodrama than it eventually turned out. It continues a theme of hot-tempered young men driven to do the right thing established by Lo’s films with Bruce Lee, but Wang Yu’s one-note performance leaves Chin Fu a rather surly hero.
On a more positive note, the film looks great, shot in comic book colours with lush production values that belie the myth all kung fu films from the Seventies were low-budget quickies. Fluid camerawork complements the energetic action choreography that showcases Jimmy Wang Yu at his most athletic. Terrific sequences include his high-flying leaps against the biker gang and a stunt where our hero hangs from an airborne cable car. Japanese kids TV show regular Ayako Yoshida performs an array of pleasant musical numbers, Lo Wei contributes a typically ego-inflating cameo as a gambling gangster with a big cigar, his arm around a sexy girl and a secret to hide, and look out for Lam Ching Ying, future star of Mr. Vampire (1985), in a small role as an evil henchman.