The freshly spun take on an old tale. The Paper Tigers adeptly mixes action, comedy, and pathos to smashing success.
Not all Martial Arts Masters age into badass silver foxes. Most age, lose their skill, gain weight, and nurse injuries from years prior. Writer/Director Quoc Bao Tran’s The Paper Tigers kicks ass not because of its ass-kicker-y but because of the values it exudes… it’s hilarious, sincere and well, kicks ass.
Three friends Danny (Alain Uy), Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), and Hing (Ron Yaung) under the tutelage for Sifu Cheung (Roger Yang) became the best of the best during their teens. Their martial arts knew no equal. They were set for greatness. They lived up to their moniker The Three Dragos. Then… they weren’t. Thirty years later Sifu Cheung is murdered. The Three Dragos have to come together to find his murderer. This isn’t some Liam Neeson Movie, though. These are not old men with a particular skill set. A lot has changed in thirty years. These Tigers are not what they used to be. They fumble and fall towards the truth about their Master and his murderer.
The Paper Tiger subverts this well-worn martial arts subgenre at every turn. Tran and his crew of actors, stunt people, and craftspeople have put together a beautifully shot, edited, and executed film that never makes fun of martial arts but definitely takes the hot air out of the “aging avenger” subgenre with glee. Much of the comedy and also tension comes from Danny, Jim, and Hing all not being proficient or skilled after 30-years of non-practice.
Part of what makes this such an unexpected success is the performances by Uy, Jenkins, and Yaun. Bao’s script requires more pathos and humor than action giving the film an edge on any of the action comedies of recent memory. All three actors relish in the unexpected levity that plays out in every scene even in the action set pieces. The chemistry between the actors further compounds the enjoyment as Uy, Jenkins, and Yaun all feel like friends with three decades of history, grievances, and stories.
How the film comes together in its third act is what separates this from just your run of the mill action comedy to something elevated. It never takes itself too seriously but knows when it needs to make an impact. The Paper Tigers by its end has earned it place in our hearts and minds not just because it kicks ass, but it manages to do so with a bit heart and a lot of genuine laughs. Like the Three Dragons, the film definitely lives up to the hype but in the most unexpected ways. Put The Paper Tigers on your must-see list if you can’t see it at Fantasia and its upcoming release.