I love a Kung-Fu movie, from the early days of Jackie Chan, right up to the recent Mortal Kombat. There are great action movies and some not so great. I find that no matter how good the talent, the direction of the action is the main thing. In the older Jackie Chan movies, like Wheels on Meals, the action is amazing, there are very few cuts, its shot away from the action, but you see and feel every punch and kick. Where, something like Transporter 3 is just terrible, there’s an edit/cut on every punch and kick and it looks awful! So when I see a good martial arts movie, I enjoy it and want to tell people about it. This brings me to The Paper Tigers.
The Paper Tigers
Found this at random on streaming, I knew nothing about it but gave it a go. The only name I recognized was Ron Yuan, who has been in things like Mulan, Fast & Furious, Shaolin Soccer, Drive (1997), White Tiger, Double Dragon; mostly smaller parts in big movies or bigger parts in smaller movies. The cast are Ron Yuan, Alain Uy, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Roger Yuan, and Jae Suh Park. It is written and directed by Quoc Boa Tran and this is his first big movie.
It was produced by Yuji Okumoto, the bad guy from Karate Kid II and, more recently in Cobra Kai as a reformed character.
The synopsis was as follows :
Three Kung Fu prodigies have grown into washed-up, middle-aged men, now one kick away from pulling their hamstrings. But when their master is murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs, dad duties, and old grudges to avenge his death.
It sounded like a comedy, and it was funny in places, but I felt it was more of a comic drama. It starts off with the three students and their master. He is teaching them about family, friendship and to win a fight you must have honor and not just fists. The Three Tigers, as they call themselves back then – Danny, Hing, and Jim – make a VHS home movie about their challenges and record each fight, including street fights. There’s a rivalry between the three and a guy called Carter. That rivalry is all about whose Kung Fu is better.
Cut to the present day and we meet up with Danny. He is now a busy father, trying to manage his work, his wife, his kid, and his life. He isn’t doing very well. Hing turns up and tells him their old master has died.
There’s something suspicious about the way Sifu died and the three students now try and get to the bottom of it. I’m not going into the rest of the story. It is funny, it is emotional and it is well done. The third act gets deeper, which makes it head towards an intense ending.
As I said, I was expecting a comedy, and it did make me laugh in places like a sequence that involves the guys trying to run, because I know the feeling when I try to run now! As the film went on, I found it was more of a drama. Subtle, but well-done humor. The story of the guys was very relatable; I did some martial arts when I was younger, back when I was fitter and I thought I could rule the world. Now, things hurt if I stand up too quickly, and my arms and legs make noises they shouldn’t when I move. That feeling of remembering the good old days, catching up with friends, and trying to relive the past is very well done in this movie.
One of the things that really got me about this movie was the action. As I have said, there are ways to do fighting in movies, and ways not to do it. This movie gets it right. I’m going to compare the fighting to Mortal Kombat, since it’s the last martial arts movie I’ve seen in a while, I felt that the action in Mortal Kombat just wasn’t that great. It was well-choreographed, but it wasn’t shot that well, the editing wasn’t great and it just didn’t feel ‘real’. Yes, I know none of the movie was real, but you know what I mean.
The Paper Tigers gets it right. The fights are really well choreographed and very well shot and they feel real. There are moments of tight editing, but it doesn’t distract from the action at all.
This isn’t a big superhero action movie, with over-the-top CG fighting defying the laws of physics. It’s a buddy martial arts movie about friendship, old rivalries, and restoring honor. I can’t think of anything this reminds me of, I know the story of old friends meeting up isn’t original, but the way this plays out is originally done.
As I said, it’s an enjoyable movie, funny in places, touching in others and some great fighting. I read that the three main stars, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Alain Uy, and Ron Yuan ended up as good friends offset and you can tell, the chemistry between them is great, it reminded me of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Biao Yuen from the movies they worked together in.
You can only watch it on some streaming platforms at the moment, iTunes, DirectTV, and a few others have it, and it will be getting a cinema release in the near future. This is definitely a movie I can imagine going to the cinema with mates, all the same age as me, and laughing (and crying) at how we identify with The Paper Tigers, but also glad we didn’t have to get into the fights they did.
Here is the trailer: