Set in a dystopian future where an entire town exists solely for prostitution, Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited is a weird, erotic tale that remains a curiosity long after seeing the film. Perhaps more interesting than its wild narrative involving brainwashing, sex slavery, and economic turmoil, is the backstory involving the making of the film. This long-lost movie has been brought back from obscurity, and still evokes a sense of otherworldliness that deserves to be looked at by a new generation.
Comprised entirely of dubbed voice-over, Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited was originally filmed without sound. It shows, especially during an opening sequence as a room full of women discuss the motives behind subjecting Billy Hampton (Bill Paxton) to reproductive surgery multiple times, and ultimately turning him into an assassin designed to kill a specific target. At first, the dubbing feels extremely jarring, because you really want to pay attention to the film and take in every plot point that’s being uttered. Eventually, however, it all just washes over the viewer. Exposition comes at a rapid rate, but it’s combined with a lot of imagery that doesn’t seem like anyone’s talking. So, while the opening scene has a lot of people discussing things with some noticeable dubbing, the film itself eventually moves beyond that for something that feels incomparable.
Yet, its plot alone is too weird not to acknowledge. As Europe divides itself into districts responsible for a singular financial purpose, a feminist cell resorts to the previously mentioned assassination attempt. However, when Billy gets to Brendovery he is unaware that he has been programmed to kill the head of the district — a district that peddles in prostitution. Instead, he’s under the impression that he is on vacation, and so a lot of Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited is focused on Billy’s sexcapades and run-ins with various locals. Admittedly, a lot of the actual plot beats are fairly weak and uninteresting because they don’t really serve any purpose except to create an atmosphere.
That atmosphere is what gives this film its life, and makes it deserving of reappraisal. A flawed movie, no doubt, Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited is in service of a feeling. There’s a detached nature that comes from having these extended sex scenes, hallucinations, and random encounters all juxtaposed against dubbed voice-over that essentially operates as world building. Co-director Tom Huckabee utilizes writing from William Burroughs to craft something that feels like it would be heralded by the beat generation (this movie originally made its way to people in 1983 before Huckabee came back to revisit the film). Much of the plot feels like a Burroughs novel, and it doesn’t take long to realize how succinctly the film captures the feeling of reading one of his stories.
It also helps that Bill Paxton is great throughout. In one of his earliest roles, he really melds into the material by being this passive weapon. He and co-directors Kent Smith and Huckabee sort of duct-taped together a movie, and it really doesn’t feel that way. That’s mainly a result of including Burroughs’s writing, as well as the way everything is structured. There’s clearly an intent to craft a dystopian fever dream, and that’s what it feels like while watching Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited. Paxton just walks throughout different scenarios like he’s sleepwalking — but in a way that evokes the same feeling in the viewer.
Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited is a hell of a trip, but it’s also one that doesn’t linger long after witnessing it. Mostly that’s because there’s no real plot , as Billy usually just wanders — like the film itself. That would be my major complaint, because it does have such a unique and compelling hook. As mentioned, the making of this project is perhaps even more wild than the story within the movie, but it doesn’t help that the insane dystopian future painted in the film is only really explored in its opening scene and its voice-over. Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited is a hypnotic experience that I just wish made more of an impact after its conclusion.