Buddy cop movies were big business in the 80s and 90s, and you couldn’t go for long without a movie star trying the genre at least once. Hong Kong cinema was no exception to this. 1990 saw Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung coming together with Karl Maka, a big star in his own right, to team up as cops to take down drug dealing gangsters.
The plot of Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon isn’t the most straightforward, and there are times where it seems to go on meandering tangents that don’t add much to the overall story, but serve to showcase the comedy of the script, and the acting talents of the two leads. The basic plot sees our two cops, Fatty (Sammo Hung) and Baldy (Karl Maka) foiling a jewellery robbery, and discovering that the gang involved are also part of a scene to hand off some drugs.
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Learning that the criminals are going to be dressed as a woman, with drugs shoved down their bra, the two set out to find the crook, but end up getting in trouble for starting a fight in a women’s changing room. Determined to keep on the case, despite the warning from their boss, the two of them end up getting deeper into the triad’s schemes; but thanks to a fight smashing its way through the wedding of the Deputy Police Commissioner, they are both taken off the case. However, when the triad sends assassins to kill the two cops and their families, Fatty and Baldy hatch a daring plan.
Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon feels a lot like it’s trying to emulate the biggest name in buddy cop movies, Lethal Weapon, though at times it does come across a lot more like National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon thanks to its weird humour; but this isn’t a slight on the movie in any way, as this ends up being an incredibly entertaining take on the formula.
Sammo Hung and Karl Maka clearly have some great chemistry when on screen together, and their characters complement each other well. Maka’s Baldy is a bit of a player, a fast talker who easily gets himself into trouble, and likes to play around with the ladies. Fatty, on the other hand, is the quieter of the two, the guy who’s too shy to tell the girl he likes that he wants to go out with her, and is often left in dangerous situations thanks to Baldy’s plans. However, where things take an interesting turn is that despite being the more gentle of the two on the outside, when things hit the fan Fatty is absolutely deadly in a fight.
There are a number of times during the extras on this release that people refer to this movie as being Sammo Hung’s Bruce Lee film, and you can really see that influence here. Having seen Hung fight in other films I’d seen him do some amazing things, and some of the stunts he’d performed were very impressive; but I’d have said he was closer in style to someone like Jackie Chan than Lee. Here however, Hung does his best Lee impression, making fight sounds that are instantly familiar to Lee fans, thumbing his nose, and tackling some moves that wouldn’t have been out of place in something like Enter The Dragon.
The mix of silly, almost ridiculous comedy, the chemistry between the two leads, and some really impressive fights, makes Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon one of the better buddy cop movies from the era. It might not have had the recognition in the west like some of the other big names in the genre, but it’s a movie that I think could have easily been a hit around the world; and one that deserved a sequel or two.
This new release from Eureka Entertainment comes with the original Cantonese audio, so that you can watch it in the original language with subtitles, or you can try it out with the English dub. It’s worth noting, if you play the English dub with the newly translated subtitles you’ll find that quite a few of the lines don’t quite line up together; leading to a unique experience where you get two slightly different translations of the film.
There’s also a pair of audio commentaries along with the movie. The first features Asian film expert Frank Djeng (who has appeared on several of Eureka’s releases) and martial artist and actor Robert ‘Bobby’ Samuels. The two of them offer a lot of interesting insight into the movie, and Djeng is a fount of information as always. The second commentary features cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, and is the less enjoyable of the two, as Leeder and Venema spend much of the runtime of the commentary lamenting ‘political correctness’ making it hard to make films like this anymore.
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In addition to the commentaries there’s a new interview with stuntman Mark Houghton; a pretty long archival interview with director Lau Kar-wing; and a decent archival interview with stuntman and action choreographer Ridley Tsui. There’s also an extended cut of the final fight scene with deleted moments restored that’s a lot of fun to watch through. The second disc also comes with the feature length documentary I Am White Tiger, which takes a look at martial artist Mark Houghton, his journey from watching martial arts movies in England to being in them, as well as the various trials and tribulations along the way. This documentary is an incredibly eye-opening experience, and features some stories that are absolutely shocking. And if you’re lucky enough to get the Limited Edition there’s a great collector’s booklet packed full of new writing about the movie.
Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon is a fun movie, and this new release really packs in the extras, making this one of the best ways to experience it, and even long time fans of Hong Kong cinema will come away from this new release having learnt something from the tons of extras that come with it.
Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon is out on Blu-ray on 21st February from Eureka Entertainment.