The Kung Fu Credo Shines in The Paper Tigers

31 Aug

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Playing at Fantasia Digital Film Festival 2020 on Sept 1st, 5:30pm PST. Buy your virtual ticket here. Canadian Residents only.

Making its US debut at 36th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (Sept 24-Oct 31st)

All hail The Paper Tigers! This martial arts comedy shows what three former students–now past their prime–are up to since they stopped practising. When their sifu (Roger Yuan, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) die under mysterious circumstances, they reunite to figure out what’s going on, and along the way, try to get back their mojo.

While the humour is light, the mystery is heavy. However, the heart and soul of the film belong to those aphorisms you’d take away from after certain films or television. In this case, it’s Kung Fu, the original series.

It’s not so much about how to live your life to the fullest, but also in how the the martial art develops a disciplined mind. Hing (Ron Yuan, Mulan) is in touch with it, showing how fighting is never about who you can knock out. He helped sifu out from time to time, trying to do good, but is sad because he one day walked away from it all because he got a better job. There’s guilt, and Yuan shows it in his performance.

Elsewhere, Danny (Alain Uy, True Detective) is trying to rebuild his relationship with his son after a divorce. He is the main protagonist. After being called back to his old digs, the challenges he faces are tough. It’s not so much he thinks he can still act tough, but rather how he’s softened up over time. We can all relate. His mates Hing and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Rich and the Ruthless) make up a brotherhood, the Paper Tigers.

The camaraderie is more evident with the younger versions of themselves (Yoshi Sudarso, Peter Adrian Sudarso and Gui DaSilva-Greene) when they were still in training. As out of shape adults with regular jobs, they are out of place when trying to figure out who killed their master. It’s funny to watch them Keystone Cop their way to figuring out what’s going on in Little China.

Practice makes perfect, but so is developing a daily routine. Had this team stayed in training, they could have taken on every challenge head on but instead fall flat every time. It’s sad and laughable, but I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. The title is telling–with paper representing fragility and tiger meaning ferocity; it’s perfect. Acting tough may look easy, but being it but knowing when to show humility is another.

4½ Stars out 5

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