Director Quoc Bao Tran creates a successful cinematic concoction of martial arts and friendship in The Paper Tigers, from Well Go USA Entertainment. Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) were thick as thieves growing up and shared a love of martial arts. The threesome were notorious in their prime and known as “the three tigers”. They had everything you could want at that age, primarily popularity and girls.
However, “the three tigers” have grown into middle-aged men, one kick away from a pulled muscle. However, after their teacher Sifu (Raymond Ma) dies by way of a mysterious murder, “the three tigers” get the band back together. Only now, they must juggle dead-end jobs, dad duties, and old grudges to avenge him.
Master action director Corey Yuen mentored director Quoc Bao Tran early in his career. Having previously directed five impressive shorts, Quoc Bao Tran makes quite the impressive debut with The Paper Tigers. Instead of trying to duplicate his mentor’s style of wirework and fast-paced fight scenes, Tran brings his own flavor to this martial arts film.
One of the first things viewers will notice about the film is the opening, which showcases the young versions of the “three tigers” in an impressive VHS cinematography style. It was great to see Yoshi Sudarso (Danny), Peter Adrian Sudarso (Hing) and Gui DaSilva-Greene (Jim) portray the teen versions of the group. When we transitioned to Alain Uy, Ron Yuan and Mykel Shannon Jenkins portraying the roles of adults, I actually believed in the actors who were now portraying the parts.
Most notable is Ron Yuan in the role of the adult version of Hing. The teenage version of Hing has the look of someone who could lead a romantic comedy, but the adult version of Hing is overweight. In fact, Yuan was asked to gain weight for the role of Hing and he gained a total of 68 pounds.
The script for The Paper Tigers avoids typical fat jokes for Hing’s character, which I respected. Concurrently, the script also avoided any urban clichés for Jim, the sole African American in the three tiger’s trio. The arc that Jim is given makes sense and I was not surprised where the script took his character. Mykel Shannon Jenkins is great in the role and I hope the film opens more doors for him.
Alain Uy portrays Danny, the movie’s primary protagonist. In my humble opinion, any dad or former athlete can relate to Danny’s arc. Not only are Danny’s glory days as an athlete gone, he is in the midst of a custody battle. Kudos to the director for sticking to his guns and using an unknown in the lead role. Ironically, when pitching the story to Hollywood studios, Hollywood wanted a white lead character to be played by Bruce Willis for $4 million dollars.
They also wanted a role written for Nicolas Cage. Now I enjoy Willis and Cage as much as the next film buff, but there was no need for either to be in the film. Matt Page, creator of the martial arts comedy web series “Enter the Dojo”, is all the film needed.
Naturally, since this is a martial arts film, I am sure the big question is how are the fight scenes in the film? Quite honestly, they are impressive and true to the tone of what the film’s director Quoc Bao Tran had in mind.
The Paper Tigers utilizes a successful approach to the martial arts genre that does not rely solely on spectacle, but also draws on story and characters.
Final Grade: A-
The Paper Tigers is available to stream now and will arrive on Blu-ray & DVD June 22.