I love Kung Fu movies and I always have. So, when the opportunity to screen The Paper Tigers at the virtual Fantasia Fest 2020, I didn’t hesitate to jump in. Directed and written by Tran Quoc Bao, The Paper Tigers features phenomenal fight choreography, a hefty dose of laughter, and offers us a look at how age and grief change our perspectives on life. The film stars Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Raymond Ma, Matthew Page, Joziah Lagonoy, Andy Le, Brian Le, and Phillip Dang.
The film centers on three childhood Kung Fu prodigies, Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan), and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), who grew up together. Beyond just training under the same master, the three grew together as friends. But, when we meet back with them after the film’s intro, we see that they’re middle-aged men and their friendship is nonexistent. But when their master is murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs, dad duties, and overcome old grudges to avenge his death. Now, with two of them one kick away from pulling their hamstrings, they go back to their roots, try to remember what their master taught them, and learn that even when age has separated them from their past, they can always return.
The Paper Tigers is a solid Kung Fu dramedy that fulfills every goal it sets for itself. A heartwarming story about childhood friends coming together after years apart? Check. A story about tradition and honoring those important to you? Check. Old men attempting to show their Kung Fu skills and causing comedic fight scenes? Check. Solid fast-paced action sequences? Check.
While there are many elements at play in The Papers Tigers none of them seem disconnected. The film manages to be an homage to Seattle’s martial arts scene, a story about grief and guilt, a comedy about aged martial arts prodigies that uses physical gags for laughs, and a deep story about accepting your past and making your way back home. And it does it all while balancing each element, from father-son talks to fart gags, yes those happen. It’s astonishing really, how effortlessly Tran has been able to craft a narrative that uses different genre elements that while remaining distinctly contrasted from each other come together for a film that is hard to describe.
While Tran’s scripting and directorial work are definitely to thank for the film’s beauty and heart, it’s the actors themselves who execute the harder elements of the film that may not land easily. This ranges from the casual racism that is inescapable in life to the way that friends insult each other in a way that bites but never crosses a territory into harm. The chemistry between the cast just works. Each quip, each fight, realization, and bonding moment hit regardless of which of the trio are interacting with each other. Additionally, it’s how they interact with the white character of the film, Carter, that hits home for me.
Carter is the guy who gets really into a facet of another culture and then lives out that thing to the point that he believes he belongs to that culture. The critique of Carter isn’t subtle and when Danny and Hing interact with him it’s all too familiar. Living in Texas I’ve had to deal with many, and I mean many, non-Mexican people showing me how much they know my culture and using bad Spanish with me. And while its offensive, it cuts two ways. You roll your eyes as Danny and Hing do, and you have to assert that you don’t speak that language.
It’s an identity that causes you to reach out to be defensive, but also reminds you don’t even connect to that aspect of it. This is captured wonderfully by their interactions and while it isn’t the focus of the film, Danny and Hing’s identity as Asian-Americans and detached in ways from their culture is something that connects with me. It isn’t there like some large theme but just presented as to how they exist in the world, and that means so much.
To be honest, The Paper Tigers gave me everything I wanted from the trailer and even more. The characters are dynamic and because of this, the story is as well. There are layers of drama and comedy that come together to create something special. The Paper Tigers is physical and emotional. While the final act has a couple of stumbles, mainly in its pacing, The Paper Tigers is spectacular. This is one to watch and one I hope finds distribution quickly.
The Paper Tigers is screening at the virtual Fantasia Fest 2020.
The Paper Tigers
- The Paper Tigers - 8/108/10
To be honest, The Paper Tigers gave me everything I wanted from the trailer and even more. The characters are dynamic and because of this, the story is as well. There are layers of drama and comedy that come together to create something special. The Paper Tigers is physical and emotional. This is one to watch and one I hope finds distribution quickly.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.