The Paper Tigers (USA, 2021)

Three former kung fu proteges attempt to avenge their sifu. Only age has caught with them in this really funny and action-packed film.

Danny, Hing, and Jim all trained under Sifu Cheung since they were kids. As teens, they would use their skills to take on various fighters in “beimo”, a challenge of honor and respect. However, it’s been twenty-five years since the trio last saw their sifu. Now middle-aged men, they all have been on their own paths. Danny, the undefeated leader of the group, is now a divorced dad who has given up kung fu for work as an insurance salesman. Hing, who had his leg destroyed by an accident at work, catches up with Danny to tell him Sifu Cheung has died.

At the funeral, they are met by Sifu Carter, a former rival of Danny’s and his teacher, Sifu Wong. When three punk boys disrespect Sifu Cheung at the funeral, Hing and Danny find Jim, who is now a mixed martial arts coach. Hing suspects something does not add up by Cheung’s death. The police say Cheung had a heart attack. However, it is soon revealed that it may not be a heart attack after all. The mysteries surrounding Sifu Cheung’s death propels the trio to get once again serious about kung fu and learn the truth about their master’s death.

Originally starting out as a short film called The Challenge, writer-director Bao Tran Quoc decided to go the Kickstarter route to expand it into a feature film and hence, he changed up the story of three middle-aged men who were once kung fu warriors and now, age has caught with them. There are martial arts comedies that go from goofy (Kung Phooey and Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece) and then there is the ridiculously goofy (Kung Pow! Enter the Fist). For this film, Bao goes for a more subtle approach to the comedy and even adds a dash of emotional element that makes this a “phoenix” when it comes to martial arts comedies.

Kudos must go out to the trio of Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins as they do a great job at playing three former heroes now down and out middle-aged men who must find their balance together once again in a time of danger. As Danny, Uy conveys the “retired” guy who wants nothing to do with kung fu as he has enough to deal with due to his constantly bickering ex-wife Caryl, played by Jae Suh Park. As Hing, Yuan seems to be the most level-headed and even is quite the healer when need be. As Jim, Jenkins plays a character who doesn’t even get into kung fu and goes as far as even forgetting the salute. The trio’s chemistry together is truly the heart of the film.

“Master Ken” himself, Matthew Page is hilarious as Carter, a former rival of the Tigers who runs a rival school and thinks he’s Chinese as he splits between speaking in Cantonese and English. Philip Dang and Martial Club’s Andy and Brian Le provide some great insight on today’s martial arts cinema as three punks who once attempted to train under Cheung and proved themselves to be worthy adversaries against the titular trio while providing the comic relief as well. Ken Quitugua’s fight choreography works well throughout the film and we get to see him as a fellow martial artist who may or may not be involved in Sifu Cheung’s death. Roger Yuan (Ron’s brother) makes the most of his role as the ill-fated Sifu Cheung as we see him more in flashbacks as a motivator for the titular trio to get their stuff together and avenge their sifu.

The Paper Tigers is a subtle, emotional, and funny homage to kung fu films and how one, or in this case three, can find themselves once again through the spirit of kung fu. A great cast, funny moments, and some nifty fighting makes this an all-around instant classic.

WFG RATING: A

Well Go USA presents a Persistence of Vision Films in association with Beimo Films. Director: Bao Tran Quoc. Producers: Michael Velasquez, Al’n Duong, Yuji Okumoto, and Daniel Gildark. Writer: Bao Tran Quoc. Cinematography: Shaun Mayor. Editing: Kris Kristensen.

Cast: Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Jae Suh Park, Matthew Page, Joziah Lagonoy, Ken Quitugua, Philip Dang, Andy Le, Brian Le, Yoshi Sudarso, Peter Sudarso, Gui DaSilva-Greene, Mark Poletti, Raymond Ma, Roger Yuan.

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