Synopsis: An evil mastermind with an addiction to egg salad! Sadistic, torture-hungry double crossers! Gorgeous girls hungry for lovin’! A weird marriage between a cobra and a chicken! Only one man is daring, clever and sexy enough to take on this kind of mission: superspy Phil Moscowitz! Woody Allen spoofs the spy thriller in one of his funniest films, a nonstop frenzy of skewed wit, hilarious parody and sidesplitting wackiness. With dialogue rewritten and redubbed for a Japanese James Bond-style movie, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? turns the sex-and-danger world of filmdom’s spy game upside down!
eyelights: the concept.
eyesores: the execution. the Lovin’ Spoonfuls segments.
Woody Allen: “They wanted in Hollywood to make the definitive spy picture. And they came to me to supervise the project, you know, because I think that, if you know me at all, you know that death is my bread and danger my butter.”
1966’s ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily’ is the feature film directorial debut of Woody Allen. More or less. You see, most of the film consists of footage that he took from a Japanese film, recut, and redubbed with his own nonsensical lines overtop. The end result: a ridiculous spoof of James Bond knock-offs.
Taking its title from ‘What’s New Pussycat?’, the hit film that Woody Allen had written and starred in, but did not direct, ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily’ is rooted in the popular ‘International Secret Police’ series – most notably “Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi”, the fourth in the series.
However, it also features footage from another entry in the series (one report claims that it’s the third film, but being the only source of information I can’t confirm this): this film was originally supposed to be a one-hour television broadcast, but it was expanded by the producers for theatrical release.
In post-production. Without Woody Allen’s approval.
Understandably, Allen was incensed with this studio interference, and considered suing them. That is, until the film was a hit. Naturally. But this experience informed his decision to exercise control over all his future films, which might explain why he’s always preferred low-budget films over big budget ones.
Along with a little boost from an earlier film, the producers also enlisted The Lovin’ Spoonfuls to performs a few numbers and ham-fistedly inserted them into the picture. Presumably, this would attract North American audiences (and sell the movie soundtrack), but the final work is pretty disjointed.
Further to this, the producers had a cleaner version of the film produced for the television version. This means that, for many years, the home video version was a re-dubbed version without the original audio track on it. Thankfully, the DVD gives viewers the option of one or the other.
The differences, at least twenty of them in all, are significant. For example, in the original, when walking about the ship Wing Fat says: “The last time I made love on a ship, it was the Titanic. We never finished”. In the re-dubbed version, he says: “I’ve seen better boats than this in a plastic hobbit kit”.
The DVD allows viewers to compare the scenes, which is a fun thing to do.
It’s hard to say how corny the original film was, what with everything that’s been done to it at the hands of Allen and company, but it looks like a really nonsensical mess to start with: there are scenes that make no sense whatsoever; it’s already very campy even without the new dialogues.
The dialogues, though, are often absolutely ridiculous: they morph the story, which originally involved finding a microfilm, into a quest for the greatest egg salad recipe – with three factions fighting over it (including our Japanese playboy superspy hero Phil Moskowitz, who brands himself a “loveable rogue”).
It can get utterly moronic, but there are some clever moments of dialogue in it. It’s terrific because they even poke fun at their own bad jokes sometimes, like when one of the characters says that “Two Wongs don’t make a right”: another character groans in disgust. ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily?’ is a film that really doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Does it have the Woody Allen touch that we have all come to know? Well, being his first film, the material is more farce-like, less intellectual or subtle – not unlike ‘Take the Money and Run‘ or ‘Bananas’. But at least Allen appears in a short introduction, being interviewed about the film, as well as in the end credits.
He also shows up in the opening credits featuring a Woody Allen cartoon ogling still shots of sexy Asian women (I don’t know if this reflects the original film’s credits or not). Speaking of Asian women, the actresses playing Teri Yaki and Suki Yaki also appear in ‘You Only Live Twice‘. Ha! They seemed familiar somehow.
So, is ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily’ worth seeing? For die-hard Woody Allen fans, it’s a requisite, being his first film. But average fans shouldn’t bother: he’s clearly just cutting his teeth and it’s something that would mostly be appreciated by fans of bad late-night movies – maybe fans of ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000‘, actually.
Given that’s it not at all representative of his body of work, I think that this is a movie best left for completists and cult film lovers. All other audiences would likely have no idea what to make of ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily?’, and be put off of seeing Woody Allen’s classic and much more coherent oeuvres.
And that would be a real shame.
Woody Allen: “Oh, no… danger’s my bread, and death is my butter. No, no, wait: Danger’s my bread, death… no, death is… no, I’m sorry. Death is my… death and danger are my various breads and various butters.”
Date of viewing: March 13, 2014