Receiving its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival, The Paper Tigers follows three martial arts prodigies who have long since given up on fighting and have become washed-up middle-aged men, who are brought back together when their mentor dies.
It starts with the dramatic death of Sifu Chang (Roger Yuan), who is killed in an alleyway by some unseen figure. The film then jumps backwards thirty years, and we get a montage of Sifu Chang training his students during the film’s opening credits, using old hand-held camera footage. It’s here that we get introduced to the main characters, Danny (Yoshi Sudarso), Hing (Peter Sudarso), and Jim (Gui DaSilva-Greene).
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These flashbacks are great, and really sell how important Kung Fu was to these characters, and how like a family they were. It also shows how great the three of them are as fighters, especially Danny, who goes on to become the next in line to inherit the clan after Sifu Chang. The Sudarso brothers are also both popular Power Rangers actors, so I got a big kick out of seeing them here.
Whilst I was sad to see the younger versions of these characters go after this opening, their older counterparts are great. Danny (Alain Uy) is a divorced insurance salesman, working hard to try and be a good weekend dad to his son. Hing (Ron Yuan) is overweight and has a knee in a brace after an work accident several years before, and is fighting against his disability. Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) has managed to keep physically fit, and works in a local boxing gym, but has forgotten a lot of his Kung Fu training.
The three of them are great protagonists, and it’s really nice to see them trying to come back together not only as fighters, but as people who once considered themselves family but had long been out of touch. The film has some great moments of the three of them reminiscing about old times, remembering their teacher and the family he made them, and it’s genuinely moving at points.
There’s also a lot of comedy here too, and the main cast clearly had a lot of fun making the movie and showing how their characters are out of shape or not ready to go back into the world of Kung Fu. There’s also a rivalry with an old opponent of theirs, Carter (Matthew Page), that results in one of the best fights in the film that’s so full of charm and humour that it had me laughing out loud more than once.
The Paper Tigers is a great movie, that takes the kind of stories and tropes that we’ve all seen before, but puts a fun spin on things. This might be another ‘fighter comes out of retirement’ story, but it’s one of the more enjoyable ones, and one of the most believable. These aren’t super heroes who have one day of training and are suddenly back in shape and ready to take on the world, they’re regular people with faults and flaws, and that makes it all the more relatable and charming. This is easily one of the films I’ve had the most fun watching this year, and I’m definitely going to want to watch it again.
The Paper TIgers had its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on 30th August 2020.