Directed By: Woody Allen, Senkichi Taniguchi
Starring: Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama
Tag line: "WOODY ALLEN STRIKES BACK!"
Trivia: The two Japanese spy girls in the movie - Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama - also appear together in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice
When A.I.P. (American International Pictures) made a deal to distribute the Japanese spy movie, Key of Keys, in the U.S., the studio thought they were getting a James Bond-style action film, which, in the mid-1960s, would have been box-office gold. Instead, Key of Keys proved to be a truly awful picture, something producer Henry G. Saperstein realized the first time he screened it. Saddled with a stinker, the wily Saperstein came up with an interesting idea: why not turn this lousy import into a comedy? So, he hired Woody Allen, who had scored a hit a year earlier with What's New, Pussycat?, to write the script and direct the "new" movie. When Allen was finished, the serious dialogue had been dubbed over, and a terrible Japanese action film suddenly became an incredibly funny American farce.
The story is hilariously ludicrous. Private eye Phil Moskowitz is hired by the leader of a small country (one that doesn't exist yet) to retrieve a valuable recipe for egg salad, which was stolen by arch-criminal Shepherd Wong. With the help of two beautiful sisters, Suki Yaki and Teri Yaki, Moskowitz goes undercover and sneaks his way into Wong's hideout. Once there, he learns that another criminal, Wing Fat, has also set his sights on the prized recipe. Caught between a pair of low-life gangsters, Moskowitz must find a way to recover the recipe without getting himself killed in the process.
As expected, many of the jokes in What's Up, Tiger Lily? come at the expense of the on-screen "action". In one scene, Moskowitz is struck on the back of the head and knocked unconscious. When he finally comes to, he stands up, grabs his head, and, wincing in pain, says "Ow! My leg!" But along with mocking the film, Allen also gets laughs by occasionally breaking down the fourth wall. Early on, two characters are sitting in a strip club, and when the stripper removes her top, her naked breasts are covered by the words "Foreign Version". A more direct reminder comes later on, when the film abruptly stops and the silhouette of two lovers, having a secret rendezvous, fills the screen (the sequence ends when the man pulls away and says "Not in the projection room. It's against union rules"). By continually reminding us that we're watching a movie, What's Up, Tiger Lily? takes what was already a zany concept and makes it even more insane.
The movie's only flaw is that, even at an abbreviated 80 minutes, it runs a bit too long; in an effort to win over younger viewers, A.I.P. inserted scenes featuring live performances by the rock band The Lovin' Spoonful, which bog down the pace of the film. This minor quibble aside, What's Up, Tiger Lily? is an extremely funny motion picture, and I highly recommend it.