What's Up, Tiger Lily? is Woody Allen's anticipated answer to his future fans. You know, the ones who sit through all the credits at the end of a movie, and are automatically well-disposed to like any film not in English. The people who, when asked to name the best filmmakers of the twentieth century, grow frenzied with names like Fellini and Kurosawa, and debate passionately whether Allen himself should be included on that list.
Like a precursor to Mystery Science Theatre 3000, in which robots comment on hilariously bad films, or Austin Powers, in which the characters in the films comment on them, Tiger Lily is a movie that makes fun of movies. Allen took a terrible Japanese spy film (Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi, or International Secret Police: Key of Keys), and dubbed it with new dialogue. In Allen's rewrite, an egg salad recipe has been stolen from "a nonexistent yet real-sounding country," and special agent Phil Moscowitz has to track it down while eluding the villains and seducing Suki and Teri Yaki. Throw in the already bad martial arts action and some big hair, and that's about as complicated as it gets, although Allen also inserted several hilarious interviews with himself, along with a new soundtrack by The Lovin' Spoonful, just for kicks.
Fans looking for Allen's trademark ability to comment on high culture while making lowbrow jokes will be disappointed here. There is nothing but frothy fun. But many people forget that Allen has always been one of America's best gag writers. He only started grafting those jokes onto meaningful plots partway through his career (Annie Hall being the clear turning point). And so the jokes in the early What's Up, Tiger Lily? are just jokes - they revel in the fun of being told. It's as though one of the world's greatest comedians showed up at your dorm room and got drunk while watching a movie.
Allen himself isn't so pleased with this film anymore, proving that he's become at least as pretentious as his fans. Consequently, there's no commentary on the DVD, or anything extra other than the two different dialogue tracks, one edited for television and the other one actually funny. But nothing more is needed. Jokes don't need to be explained - they don't even need to be funny; in order to work, they just need to be laughed at.