The Paper Tigers is a story about three Kung Fu students who grew up to be middle-aged men who are far cries from being the ass-kicking teenagers they once were. The three men are united after many years without contact when they decide to investigate and avenge the murder of their Kung Fu master. With a great blend of comedy, martial arts action and tone similar to that of Netflix’s Cobra Kai series, The Paper Tigers ended up being a fun, light-hearted night of entertainment.
Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) are middle-aged men who used to be inseparable teenagers who trained in the art of Kung Fu under the tutelage of Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan). They were famous for being an undefeatable team who videotaped many of their combat exploits against other fighters. But things changed. They grew up, got jobs and went their separate ways to live regular lives.
When Sifu Cheung is found dead in an alley, it’s assumed he died from natural causes. However, when Carter (Matthew Page) – an old rival from their teenage years and now a fully fledged Kung Fu teacher – plants the idea that foul play could be afoot, Danny, Hing and Jim decide to put their normal lives on hold and find out what really happened to their master. But as they delve into the truth surrounding the death of Sifu Cheung, they learn that brushing up on their Kung Fu skills won’t be enough to face their deadly new adversary. In order to survive this ordeal, they must also overcome some of life’s hardest lessons.
Given the action / comedy style of the film, the acting is on point across the board with all the actors. Alain Uy is perfectly cast as Danny, the most famous of the trio who grew up into a skinny, divorced, businessman who puts work before family. Gone are his days of getting into fights as he now lives a life of avoiding violence and answering his phone at inappropriate times. He is such a pacifist that even his son Ed (Joziah Lagonoy) didn’t know until very recently that his father knew any kind of martial art. Uy does a great job of being the likable, bad father who needs to learn that his priorities need re-evaluating.
Ron Yuan is particularly awesome as Hing, the overweight, passionate, optimist with a bad knee. Yuan adds a great comic element that compliments the other two in the team because of his unbridled enthusiasm for getting into action despite his physical handicaps. He’s the heart of the team as he tries to bridge the two extreme personality types of Danny and Jim who have never gotten over a falling out they had years ago.
And what would a trio consisting of a skinny and overweight person be without the fit one. Mykel Shannon Jenkins is in top-shape as Jim, a martial arts instructor who’s turned away from Kung Fu and instead focused on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While he would seem to be the most obvious person to kick some serious ass and be the serious one, he also provides his own layer of humor while still bringing the drama of someone holding onto a grudge for a long time.
Of special note, I want to mention Matthew Page who plays Carter. Page is especially hilarious as the white/western Kung Fu master with a massive ego and an old grudge he wants to settle with our heroes. Constantly speaking in Chinese (to which none of our heroes understand) and seriously adopting Chinese culture, his visual spectacle along with his ridiculous personality adds the icing to the cake on an already solid ensemble cast.
The Paper Tigers is writer and director Quoc Bao Tran’s feature film directorial debut and he’s done a fantastic job of telling a well rounded story that is the perfect blend of action, comedy and drama. There’s not much to the story but it more than makes up for that with memorable characters, plenty of martial arts fighting and strong themes exploring the importance of friendship, loyalty and what it takes to be a good father.
And while some of those themes might sound a bit heavy for a chilled evening in front of the TV, Tran manages to tell all this while maintaining a light-hearted tone. Not even the evil assassin with a deadly killing technique and a personality for murder can bring a dark tone to this film.
The Paper Tigers is a fun action comedy with the heart and spirit of old school martial art movies. It really made me feel like a kid again when I grew up watching movies like the Karate Kid where the family could enjoy the martial art spectacle while also watching the characters learn some important life lessons. And if you’re the type who enjoys the Karate Kid and the recent Cobra Kai series (keep an eye out for the cameo), then you’ll definitely need to add this to your watchlist.