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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » What's Up, Tiger Lily?
What's Up, Tiger Lily?
Image // Unrated // July 15, 2003
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted July 29, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

I don't like starting out reviews with a quote, but since Woody Allen so succinctly pinpoints how What's Up, Tiger Lily? was conceived at the beginning of the film, I'll temporarily leave you in his capable hands:

"Let me see if I can explain this to you accurately: 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... oh no wait, Danger is my bread, and Death is my butter... no no wait, Danger's my bread, Death.. no Death... I'm sorry, Death is my... Death and Danger are my various breads and, and...uh, various butters. So we took a Japanese film -- made in Japan by Japanese actors and actresses, we bought it and its a great film: beautiful color, and there's raping and looting and killing in it -- and I took out all the soundtrack. I knocked out all their voices and I wrote a comedy. I got together with some actors and actresses and we put our comedy in where they were formerly raping and looting. And the result is a movie where people are running around, uh, killing one another and doing all those James Bondian things, but what's coming out of their mouth is something wholly other."

 -- Woody Allen, "Author" of What's Up, Tiger Lily?

And so begins one of the silliest motion pictures ever made. Allen and company took a semi-legitimate yet ultra-cheesy 1962 Japanese spy film entitled The Key of Keys, ripped the soundtrack out, rewrote and redubbed all the dialog, and spliced in two performances by the 1960s powerhouse quartet Loving Spoonful, creating one of the most hilarious if seriously dated comedies ever committed to celluloid.

I've never seen The Key of Keys but, from what I can gather it seems to be some kind of espionage caper in which a James Bond-like spy has to recover a roll of secret microfilm from an evil Bad Guy. Pretty standard stuff. In Allen's version of the film, superspy and professional-grade horndog Phil Moskowitz is recruited by the Grand Exalted High Majah of Raspur (a non-existent but real-sounding country) to recover the Secret Recipe for Egg Salad from a bozo named Shepherd Wong. This is no ordinary Egg Salad: it's an Egg Salad so delicious, you could plotz. You see, it is written that he who makes the best Egg Salad shall rule over Heaven and Earth. Helping Phil along on his quest are the two sexy spy sisters, Teri and Suki Yaki, and a duplicitous mercenary named Wing Fat.

Make no mistake: this is film primed for drunken lunacy and extreme quote-worship. There's about a dozen quotable lines every minute in this film. When you're not spitting up your last five drinks through your nose, you are rolling your eyes in bemused resignation. This movie is most assuredly a product of the sixties; many of the lines sport sensibilities and attitudes that you don't find anymore in contemporary product. And I'm sure some will find fault in its patriarchal, condescending view towards Asian cultures. Your mileage may vary, as humor is as subjective as the love of chubby thighs. But know this: to see What's Up, Tiger Lily? is to enter a realm of supreme silliness that very few films ever yearn to venture.

Truly funny, funny stuff.


Well, let's approach this realistically, shall we? What's Up, Tiger Lily? features video from a forty year old Japanese B-movie. You won't find pristine, perfect film-like representations here. What you will find is a fairly good presentation of the material. The transfer is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, and the results are generally pleasing if not perfect. Colors are well represented and relatively vibrant. There is some noticeable wear on the print, but debris such as dirt, speckles, and mars are generally absent. Contrasts are fair, with noticeable edge-enhancement and haloing throughout the picture. Image detail is occasionally fuzzy, with softness and fuzziness throughout. Compression noise is sometimes visible. Overall I cannot complain too much about the quality of the video; it's the best I've ever seen it look, and considering that a restoration of any kind is pretty much never going to happen, this is a fairly good transfer.

The audio is showcased in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0, and is very satisfactory to the presentation of the film. Considering the sheer number of zingers and one-liners, dialog is critical to the presentation of What's Up, Tiger Lily? , and this DVD features a clean rendering. There is some noticeable distortion at times, inherent to the age and limitations of the source material, but overall you will find few complaints.

There isn't much in terms of extras, but what is included is somewhat interesting. What's Up, Tiger Lily? has previously been released with two soundtracks: the original theatrical and an alternate version. Both have been released on video, but throughout the decades I've been renting the VHS video, I've noticed  that the alternate soundtrack pops up more often than the original one. This is a shame, because the original theatrical soundtrack is much funnier. Thankfully, both soundtracks have been included on this DVD. You can select your desired soundtrack from Audio Selection in the "Special Features" menu.

Audio Comparisons allows you to do a spot comparison of each scene that features alternate audio. In all, there are twenty-scenes included in the comparison, and here you can truly discover how the original soundtrack is simply the funnier of the two.

Wooody Allen Filmography showcases an extensive list of TV and Film work by the film's author, Woody Allen.

Finally, there is a rather apropos Easter Egg. From the "Main Menu", highlight the glasses on the Woody Allen caricature and press Enter. Here you will find -- of all things! -- a recipe for Egg Salad! Whether or not you plotz or end up ruling over Heaven and Earth is beyond the purview of this review.

Final Thoughts

Fans of What's Up, Tiger Lily? don't need to be convinced about its hilarity. It's the type of movie that welcomes... nay, demands several choice cocktails before watching, not because it requires drunken buffoonery, but because it revels in it. There are too many great lines, too many unbelievable moments, and just enough Political Incorrectness that it not only splits your sides with ghoulish guffaws, but it also makes one yearn for a time when comedy was actually... oh, I don't know, funny ? God forbid...

The DVD is a nice presentation of the material. The transfer is perfectly acceptable and the audio is cleanly delivered. The extras, while not extensive, are definitely a nice addition to the package. Saracen Pigs, Saxon Dogs, and DVD fans everywhere owe it to themselves to get their hands on this DVD as soon as possible. It's so delicious, you will plotz!

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