Photo: ‘The Paper Tigers’/Well Go USA Entertainment
‘The Paper Tigers’ is a great movie, lovingly and skillfully paying homage to classic Hong Kong kung fu comedies (think Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan)–it’s also one of few true examples of Asian-American cinema.
Debuting director Quoc Bao Tran and his team originally pitched the film to Hollywood producers, but were offered $4 million with the caveat that the Asian-American lead is replaced by a White lead to be played by Bruce Willis–they declined the offer, producing the film with an ultra-lean shooting budget of $1 million ($124,000 of which came from Kickstarter).
Related article: 10 Best Martial Arts Movies: An Intro and In-Depth Look at the Genre
Related article: Why The Oscars Should Have An Award for the Best Stunts Category
‘The Paper Tigers’
It follows the “Three Tigers,” an undefeated trio of kung fu (or “gung fu,” as it’s pronounced) prodigies–leader Danny “Eight Hands” (Alain Uy), Ah Hing (Ron Yuan), and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins). VHS flashbacks reveal their glorious (and often brutal) street-fighting exploits (with their teenage selves portrayed by Yoshi Sudarso, Peter Adrian Sudarso, and Gui DaSilva-Greene), but their present-day selves are far from fighting fit.
Having parted ways almost 30 years prior, they’re reunited by the mysterious death of their former master, Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan). Hing is the first to suspect that their sifu’s death, initially ruled a heart attack, was actually foul play–he manages to reunite the Tigers, but the trio of unremarkable middle-aged men hardly seems suited for an action-packed investigation. Tight martial arts choreography and sensible cinematography lend to fight scenes that are decidedly superior to ‘Mortal Kombat’, all the while retaining a fantastic sense of humor that’s imbued in the action as much as it is the dialogue.
Hing, for instance, is now a heavyset man with a permanent limp, obtained in a work accident 10 years ago. His fights have a lingering tension as his bad leg seems to teeter on the edge of basic functionality, let alone having to actually fight–still, he makes it work. Yuan does an excellent job of portraying the character, who’s the funniest and most optimistic of the trio–he acts as a bridge between Danny and Jim, whose initial feud prompted the 30-year separation.
Matthew Page appears as Carter, the overenthusiastic White Sinophile who could never best the Three Tigers in their prime–as an adult, while the Tigers have long abandoned kung fu, Carter has risen to the rank of sifu. He’s but one of many hilarious obstacles that the ill-equipped adult Tigers must face, and some of the humor could only work with the authentically diverse cast–like Carter reciting proverbs in Cantonese to the uncomprehending Hing. Page isn’t afraid to ham it up, but neither is anybody else–it’s completely on-brand for the film’s comedy. This is one of the few movies I’ve ever seen with a toupée gag that really got me.
Click here to read more on Hollywood Insider’s vision, values and mission statement here – Media has the responsibility to better our world – Hollywood Insider fully focuses on substance and meaningful entertainment, against gossip and scandal, by combining entertainment, education, and philanthropy.
Danny, once the top dog of the Seattle martial arts scene, is now a greying, diminutive middle-aged workaholic who fails to balance his work life with his joint-custody son. It’s essential to his character and core to the movie, with some affecting emotional payout by the end–still, Danny’s evocation of the “workaholic dad” trope is one of my only gripes with the movie. Haven’t we seen it before, to varying degrees of success, in films such as ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Hook’, ‘Click’, ‘Evan Almighty’, ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Jingle All the Way’, ‘Liar Liar’, ‘North’, ‘The Haunted Mansion’, ‘The Babysitters Club Movie’, ‘The Wrestler’, ‘Up’, ‘Angels in the Outfield’, ‘Zathura’, ‘i am sam’, ‘What Maisie Knew’, ‘Train to Busan’, ‘Heat’, ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’, ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’, and so on?
That aside, there’s little to complain about — ‘The Paper Tigers’ delivers a continuous stream of laughs and fight scenes that leave the viewer wanting for little else. As the trio goes through the wringer in pursuit of the truth, including bouts with the aforementioned Carter and an upstart trio of Vietnamese-American punks (played by the team behind MartialClub), they realize that the person they’re looking for is a dangerous and elusive fourth disciple.
Tran and DP Shaun Mayor pull some great shots out of their million-dollar hat, including the chilling moment when they identify their sifu’s fourth by the sound of his blows on a punching bag, and Daniel L.K. Caldwell moves the film along with cheeky, low-rent beats that complement the film’s self-aware tone. It strikes a perfect balance between taking kung fu extremely seriously and not taking it seriously at all, executing its concept with meticulous craftsmanship that gets to the heart of good-natured kung fu clownery.
It’s not exactly family-friendly, and at times is actually pretty brutal–but that’s part of what makes the action so good. Even the fight scenes in the VHS flashbacks, as briefly as they’re seen, are choreographed and shot to satisfying perfection–this is a loving, passionate send-up to martial arts movies, by martial artists. It’s a powerful directorial debut by Tran and one of the most entertaining films of 2021 thus far–most definitely worth a watch.
By Daniel Choi
Click here to read Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.
An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard.
Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”
More Interesting Stories From Hollywood Insider
– Want GUARANTEED SUCCESS? Remove these ten words from your vocabulary| Transform your life INSTANTLY
– Compilation: All James Bond 007 Opening Sequences From 1962 Sean Connery to Daniel Craig
– Do you know the hidden messages in ‘Call Me By Your Name’? Find out behind the scenes facts in the full commentary and In-depth analysis of the cinematic masterpiece
– A Tribute To The Academy Awards: All Best Actor/Actress Speeches From The Beginning Of Oscars 1929-2019 | From Rami Malek, Leonardo DiCaprio To Denzel Washington, Halle Berry & Beyond | From Olivia Colman, Meryl Streep To Bette Davis & Beyond
– In the 32nd Year Of His Career, Keanu Reeves’ Face Continues To Reign After Launching Movies Earning Over $4.3 Billion In Total – “John Wick”, “Toy Story 4”, “Matrix”, And Many More
the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers, the paper tigers
Daniel Choi is a writer who’s currently pursuing a BA in Film & Television from New York University. With a background in amateur film production, Daniel is fascinated by how artists’ cultural backgrounds inform their work, subconsciously or not, and how that work is then perceived by different audiences across time and space. He joined Hollywood Insider to promote its mission statement of substantive entertainment journalism, and hopes to enrich readers’ understandings of cinema through insightful analysis.