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Tiger Claws 1-3 (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Tiger Claws 1-3 (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 26th, 2021.
    Director: Kelly Makin, J. Stephen Maunder
    Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Jalal Merhi, Bolo Yeung, Harry Mok, Carter Wong, Mike Chow, Russell Peters
    Year: 1991/1996/2000
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Tiger Claws 1-3 - Movie Review:

    A year after their release of Martial Law I & II, Vinegar Syndrome again returns to the well of awesomeness that is the Cynthia Rothrock filmography, this time with a double-disc set containing the three Tiger Claws films teaming her with producer/actor Jalal Herhi and, of course, the inimitable Bolo Yeung!

    Tiger Claws:

    Our first film opens on the mean streets of New York City which is definitely not Toronto no matter how much it is definitely Toronto. Here we meet a tough as nails cop named Tarek Richards (Merhi). He's the kind of cop who plays by his own rules and who doesn't want a partner. You know the type. He's on the same payroll as Linda Masterson (Rothrock), an equally tough cop who is tired of working for the vice squad and busting johns.

    When a serial killer dubbed 'The Death Dealer' pops up in the area, killing off various martial arts masters as easily as a hot knife through butter, Richards and Masterson are paired together by their boss to crack the case and bring the killer in before NYC's entire population of kung-fu experts has been laid to waste! The biggest clue? Each body that the killer leaves behind has some scratch marks on their body that look like they were made by.... tiger claws!

    We know as soon as Chung (Yeung) shows up on camera that he's the bad buy. It isn't a spoiler, really, to say so before fairly early in the film we see him kill a good friend of Tarek's who is, of course, a martial arts master. The script works a bit of a 'tigery' gimmick into the kill scenes that is amusing but completely unnecessary, and really, Bolo's finishing moves lack the intensity and finesse you might want a finishing move to have, but overall this is a really fun watch and the main reason for that is the cast. Rothrock shows here, once again, why she was the best female martial artist working in the direct to video market of the nineties, taking on all comers and kicking as much, if not more, ass than any of her male counterparts even if most of her action is reserved for the final reel. Merhi might not be a great actor, in fact he's kind of terrible, but he's likeable in a weird way and he handles himself well in the fight scenes. If he isn't as flashy as some of the other player's here, he's got a good style and is also savvy enough to get out of the way and let the others shine when the need arises. Of course, big, bad Bolo's presence is going to be a big draw for a lot of viewers and he's pretty great to watch here. He throws his weight around, sure, but he's also impressively graceful and intense in most of the right scenes he's involved with.

    Director Kelly Makin paces the action nicely and the fight choreography here is pretty strong. It's clear that this wasn't made with a huge budget but the production values are decent enough that this is never at the forefront of our mind while we watch the movie. All in all, this one holds up and is definitely worth checking out.

    Tiger Claws II:

    The first sequel, directed by J. Stephen Maunder, is set a few years after the events that finished off the first movie. Masterson has moved to San Francisco and Chong is safely locked away behind bars, while Richards is just sort of doing his thing and brooding.

    The story starts to really move when a guy named Victor (Evan Lurie) tries to sell a cache of illegal weapons to a gangster named Dai Lo Fu (Ong Soo Han). Richards shows up to stop the transaction from going down and to see that these criminals are brought to justice, but things don't go quite as planned. Soon enough, Dai Lo Fu and his cronies have sprung Chong out of prison and, puzzlingly, decide to drive from New York City, which is definitely not Toronto, all the way to San Francisco... in a French fry truck. Soon, people start getting killed off in San Francisco the same way that they were in New York (sort of).

    Of course, Richards gives chase and once he's made it to the west coast, he teams up with Masterson to try and figure out just what exactly is going on here but it doesn't go well for them. Soon Masterson has been locked away in a prison while Richards is forced to fight in an underground fight tournament, complete with weird mystical combatants!

    The story is pretty ridiculous this time around, with Chong, once a vicious serial killer who killed Richards' best friend now redeeming himself as an honorable, almost heroic figure. That doesn't really matter much, we're not here for a deep plot or consistent characterizations, we're here for ass-kicking and DTS weirdness, and on that level the movie delivers.

    Our three leads are, once again, very entertaining to watch for all the same reasons already noted above, but this time we get Evan Lurie (who will look very familiar to anyone who has watched more than a few Don 'The Dragon' Wilson movies in their time) thrown into the mix and that definitely helps things. He and Ong Soo Han are a lot of fun to watch as the bad guys this time around, but the movie spends more time with Bolo operating the deep fryer than it does with him kicking ass, and you kind of have to ask yourself why that is. Still, there's something almost hypnotic about watching Bolo make French fries (and for some reason he puts mustard on them!).

    Tiger Claws III:

    The third and final film, again directed by Maunder, brings the action back to New York City, which is still definitely not Toronto. When the movie begins, set a few years after the end of the second film, Richards and Masterson are back at it, stopping criminals when they can and maybe, just maybe, finding time to love one another. They're staking out a warehouse where some priceless Asian antiquities have been stored. A psychopath named Stryker (Loren Avedon) breaks in, wanting to steal some specific suits that are stored away there. Of course, it doesn't quite go as planned.

    Sometime later, Stryker proves he didn't really need those suits after all and uses his abilities to bring a few Chinese assassins back from the dead to do his evil bidding and he does that, they kill Masterson! Richards is, of course, extremely upset but so too is he determined to see that this doesn't go unpunished. To get the help he needs, Richards goes to see Master Jin (Carter Wong), the man who once trained Stryker, to learn that art of 'The Black Tiger.'

    Once his training it complete, Richards hits the streets to exact his revenge.

    This final film in the trilogy somewhat unwisely works a completely unnecessary mystical angle into the proceedings that allows the movie to go for some goofy 'blue ball of energy' effects in its later scenes that don't really add a whole lot. This would have been better with more action, less mysticism, but if it is by far the weakest of the three Tiger Claws films, thanks in no small part to the fact that Rothrock isn't in it all that much, it does still have its moments.

    Carter Wong is a lot of fun to see here, he brings an impressive screen presence to his role. Having him in the film is definitely a plus. Loren Avedon makes for a pretty entertaining villain, skulking about and kicking the shit out of a lot of people as he does it. He looks the part and acts the part and, being no stranger to direct to video action films at this point in his career, he seems to know how to handle himself in a movie like this. No Bolo this time around, which is a shame, and Merhi doesn't work as well as on his own as he does with Rothrock by his side, but the plot moves quickly and some of the fight scenes are pretty solid, even if this is a noticeable step down.

    Tiger Claws 1-3 - Blu-ray Review:

    Tiger Claws 1-3 arrives on two separate 50GB Blu-ray discs, the first disc containing the first two films and the second disc containing the third movie and most of the extra features. Each film is presented “newly scanned & restored in 4k from their 35mm original camera negatives” and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the picture quality here is excellent. Natural film grain is noticeable throughout, just as you'd want it to be, but there's virtually no print damage here at all, the picture is clean from start to finish. Colors are handled very nicely, all of those garish nineties fashions pop quite nicely, and we get strong black levels too. Detail, depth and texture are consistently impressive and there are no issues to note with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts of note.

    Vinegar Syndrome offers up 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 audio for both features. Optional subtitles are provided in English only and optional Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes are also provided, again, in English. Quality is just fine, with dialogue always easy to understand and follow and levels balanced nicely throughout. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note, everything sounds clean and crisp.

    Jalal Herhi provides a commentary for each of the three films in the set. These tracks would have benefitted from a moderator as there's quite a bit of dead air in each one, usually in the latter half of each movie as her runs out of things to talk about. Still, when he's on he offers up a lot of appreciation for the directors that he worked with and particularly the cast members, Rothrock in particular. He tells some interesting stories from the three different shoots, talks about character motivations and locations and more.

    There are some interesting featurettes found on disc two. Sharpening The Claws is a making of featurette that covers Tiger Claws over the span of twenty-seven minutes by way of interviews with Cynthia Rothrock and Jalal Merhi. Martial Art Porn covers the making of Tiger Claws II and it runs eighteen minutes. Mystical Claws goes over the making of the third film and it clocks in at nineteen minutes.

    These three featurettes play well together, and give us a look at the evolution of the series. We learn how Merhi got the filmmaking bug, the locations, getting Bolo for the movies, the importance of casting Rothrock in the picture, how busy Rothrock was in the early nineties given the international success of her Hong Kong films, the different kung-fu styles that were used in the film, some of the locations used for the shoots, the directors that they worked with on the films, getting along with the other cast members, some of the stunt work that is such a big part of the movies' appeal, why there was a lengthy delay between the different sequels, the distribution history of the movies, the fall of Shapiro Glickenhaus, trying to bring some different elements to the sequels to keep things interesting, training and preparation required for the movies, the appeal of martial arts films, where some of the ideas came from, adding some spirituality to the third film, why Cynthia's fights were toned down in the third film, trying to meet the demands of a shifting market and the enduring popularity of the three films in the series. You'll find up getting a lot more out of these featurettes than the commentary tracks as they are much more focused.

    The second disc also includes original video trailers for all three films in the collection.
    As far as the packaging goes, Vinegar Syndrome offers this release, part of their VSU limited edition line, (limited to 4,000 copies and not to be re-pressed) with a hand numbered bottom loading slipcover, a reversible cover sleeve and a double-sided poster.

    Tiger Claws 1-3 - The Final Word:

    Vinegar Syndrome has done a fine job bringing the three Tiger Claws films to Blu-ray with very strong presentations, good audio and some decent extra features as well. The films themselves are pretty entertaining, especially the first two, and fans of Rothrock, Bolo and even Merhi should be more than happy to snatch this set up and add it to their collections.

    Click on the images below for full sized Tiger Claws 1-3 Blu-ray screen caps!




























































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