Tiger Heart (1996) — Nunchucking your way to necking

“This place looks like a ninja pajama party.”

Shalen’s rating: Five out of five wheels of cheese.

Shalen’s review: Power like a tiger / Comes from deep inside / The tiger walks so softly / But evil better hide! / Tiger heart won’t give in / Tiger heart will always win / Draws his strength from within / Power comes from discipline / Tiiiiiigerrrrr heart! / Tiiiiiigerrrrr heart!

This is the actual intro song from this movie, among the first things you hear when you start it up. I present it here in text in the full knowledge that it has to be heard to be believed, but perhaps it will convey in some small way what you have coming when you pop in the DVD.

So, starting at the end just because we can: The ultimate fight scene in this movie involves a gang of thugs at a night club being taken down by three teenagers plus a children’s karate class. That’s actually not so unbelievable. I firmly believe at least half those little kids could individually take down the protagonist. I wish somebody would. Our hero Eric Chase is such an incredible twerp I couldn’t stop rooting for someone to kill him. I guess his parents paid good money for those teeth, and by golly he’s going to show them to us every single second that he isn’t talking.*

The concept that this scrawny, arrogant preppy can take out large numbers of armed gang bangers is almost as silly as the (for some reason very persistent) idea that developers obtain land by sending thugs to scare the residents into signing over their property.** At least, that first concept looks silly until you see the baddies in question. Henchman Paulo and company come complete with spotless white tee shirts tucked neatly into the tops of their clean, pressed, and belted jeans. Leather jackets, when present, are new and shiny, lacking any conspicuous gang emblems. Paulo himself has the menacing effect of his tattoos spoiled by his neatly-trimmed goatee and pristine tank top. They’re employed by a wannabe kingpin — sorry, I mean a real-estate developer — in a white suit and black shirt. His main form of amusement is coming up with unobscene insults to use on Paulo, being as how the movie is rated PG-13.

It’s easy to tell a low-grade martial arts film from the better varieties both domestic and foreign. Any extended involvement of nunchuku is a pretty good sign. These are, let’s face it, very impractical weapons. It takes a two-second web search to find more clips than anyone will ever want to watch of guys hitting themselves in the faces with these things. Thus, the probability that crack-crazed henchmen would master their use is right up there on the list with Ralph Nader getting elected president. The same goes for bo staves, escrima sticks, and any other weapon more complicated than a baseball bat.

Even good martial arts movies often seem to occur on a different planet from ours, one where every male of every age*** resorts instantly to highly complex violence when even slightly provoked. There are few guns, and none that can be fired accurately. Every lowlife on the street and every drunk in a diner**** knows a karate stance and can kick higher than his own head. Not only that, but all of them have mastered combat etiquette, politely refraining from attacking in units of more than two at once. I wish I lived there. I would be guaranteed freedom from physical harm, because nothing ever happens to unattractive women in Martial Arts Movie Land; only busty blonds get kidnapped and hauled away.

But I digress. If you can hold your head above the rising tide of cheese, you may find this movie hilarious. The Sibs and I are still quoting some lines from it (“He’s just compensating for a tiny… NOSE!”) and we first saw it around a decade ago, when it was new in the straight-to-DVD section at the cheapest video rental place in town. It tries so hard to be light and funny and exciting, and ultimately ends up absolutely none of those things (except funny, and then never on purpose). Just make sure you don’t watch it with the kind of people who say “Shh!” when you talk during the movie, because you pretty much have to MST this one or explode.

*I make no mention of his “comic relief horny loser” friend Brad, whom I am still trying to mentally edit out of existence.
**They don’t have to. That’s what eminent domain laws are for.
***And some women, but not in this movie. In this movie women exist for the purpose of wearing short skirts and screaming a lot.
****Of the retro-50s variety. Apparently Eric’s California hometown is so boring the only thing to do is get drunk and harass diner patrons. Too bad Eric and co. have effectively put the kibosh on any chance of large retailers coming in and perking up the local economy.


  • See, I have cellulite too, but I never thought of deliberately showing it off by wearing a bikini.
  • It’s okay to talk about destroying property in public, but not okay to hand over money.
  • Oh, come on. Paulo’s (inexplicably unarmed) goons had ZERO chance against two Chinese kung fu experts.
  • Eric is actually looking at Stephanie’s face while she’s wearing that shirt, but he looks like he might be straining something in the process.
  • Who are Crockett and Thompson? Seriously. I want to know.
  • Picking up a six pack… of Hansen’s Grapefruit Juice!
  • I think Stephanie is totally into henchman Manny. Probably because he’s much cuter than Eric. Heck, Paulo is cuter than Eric, and he’s playing the role of Tattooed Sleazeball.
  • No, actually Snookums does not sound at all like an air freshener. Not even a little.
  • Paulo’s posse. They wear their sunglasses at night so they can see, so they can see…
  • Stephanie’s uncle is completely unconscious, yet for some reason the hospital personnel have put a nasal cannula on him (delivers very little oxygen; usually they would use a nonrebreather mask).
  • No, actually I’m pretty sure hospitals are not allowed to throw people out of Intensive Care when they run out of money.
  • During the big fight scene you can see thugs running from right to left and left to right across the background, sometimes the same ones more than once.
  • Nice V-neck tee, Manny. I wonder if he knows that’s a women’s shirt?
  • The footage from the dojo with the lions on the gis is unrelated to anything else, including Eric’s dojo, and the distinctive lion logo never appears in the film again.

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