Michael (Victor Garland) is a young Englishman traveling abroad and ready to experience new things. One adventure takes him to Tiger Bay, a notoriously rough neighborhood where he believes he can prove that the human spirit and romance prevail, even in the darkest corners.
Romance does, in fact, prevail, with Michael meeting a lovely girl named Letty (Rene Ray). But Michael finds more trouble than, he expected, too.
You see, Letty is the adoptive sister of Lui Chang (Anna May Wong), who owns a nightclub. The club is being targeted by a gang of racketeers, and though Lui wants to get herself and Letty out of Tiger Bay, she wants to do it on her own terms. Lui isn’t willing to give up her business without a fight, and Michael ends up drawn into the conflict by his desire to protect Letty.
Tiger Bay was directed by J. Elder Wills, who also wrote the film along with Eric Ansell (from a scenario/adaptation by John Quin).
Anna May Wong receives top billing for this film, and her performance is absolutely fantastic. She makes the film worth tuning in for. There’s an interesting enough plot, but an inconsistent pace and fairly shallow character development. Wong’s character is who we get to know best, and she’s fascinating, making up for some of the film’s shortcomings.
Wong has a glare that could probably kill a man! A glare that intimidates her on-screen enemies, while leaving the audience cheering for her.
She’s a rock-solid presence throughout the film. She’s the protective older sister, determined to keep Letty safe and eventually get her out of Tiger Bay. She’s also the take-no-bull businesswoman, refusing to let anyone interfere with the success she’s made of her family’s establishment.
As for that Letty, her history with Lui’s family is a compelling addition to the story. I loved their sense of sisterhood, and thought Letty’s romance was cute, though both she and Michael come across as quite naïve at times.
This film is pretty messy, taking quite the overdramatic turn at the end. With its plotting and pace, Tiger Bay is definitely one for seasoned old movie buffs — not a film that will ever be used to convert new lovers of black and white cinema. Still, it is absolutely worth watching for the splendid Anna May Wong, who drew me into the story despite all of its problems.