“The Paper Tigers” Blu-Ray Review
Although sometimes rough around the edges, the charming indie kung fu comedy Paper tigers From the first feature film, director Tran Quoc Bao has enough heart to make you forgive some of the narrative shortcomings. In a week when a viewing of Drunk Master II left me in a state of martial arts daze, the transition to Paper tigers offers an experience closer to a sweetness Cobra Kai with an eye towards the Shaw brothers. Almost immediately you get a glimpse of the holder “Three Tigers ”at their peak with low-resolution VHS footage. Sage Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan) took on three sworn disciples in the form of young Danny, Hing and Jim. As they learn more about the true principles of “gung fu” you can see their respect for their sifu grow – even if they see the rest of their life as a joke. These three are practically inseparable as they fight the evils of the world with finely choreographed altercations. They are so talented that they are even invited to compete in Japan, but what happened here initially remains a mystery.
Cut to the present and suddenly 25 years have passed since the Three Tigers even saw each other or Sifu Cheung. Danny (Alain Uy), the undefeated star prodigy of the trio, has long given up his place as successor to his sifu in favor of a broken marriage and a career as an insurance agent. The once powerful Danny is now a pretty sweet and sarcastic guy who fails both fatherly and as a husband. Although he has good intentions, he is a constant source of disappointment for both his his son (Joziah Lagonoy) and ex-wife (Jae Suh Park) with his tendency to prioritize work over everything else. He didn’t come out of his midlife slump until Hing (Ron Yuan) returned, now with a little extra weight, a hairpiece that doesn’t fool anyone, and a broken knee that crackles so much you think someone is shaking a box of pebbles. The newest member of the trio, Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), is in much better shape – check out those biceps! – but he long ago forgot his kung fu training in favor of his role as a trainer of young black athletes at a local gym.
The reunion is unfortunately not completely happy, and not just because Danny and Jim had a mysterious falling out all those years ago in Japan. Sifu Cheung is sadly deceased, but the death presents enough red flags that the trio think it is worth investigating the cause. What follows is a series of violent and hilarious altercations that culminate in a possible villain who doesn’t quite live up to the innovative nature of the rest of the film. The gulf between who the Three Tigers were and their lives now gives way to healthy doses of hilarity as well as some poignant reflections on aging. An early confrontation in an abandoned swimming pool with young “thugs” offers some of the best moments of action and humor in the film. Choreographer Ken Quitugua (also appearing onscreen) makes you feel every punch to the face and kick to the chest while pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. These fights aren’t the most complex you’ll ever see due to the characters’ situation in their lives, but they’re perfectly staged to fit the storyline.
The heart and humor of the film comes from the believable chemistry of the Tigers trio. Even with some buried animosity, there is an easy camaraderie that returns quickly after their reunion. Their bodies may not be the same, but emotionally they are quite back to their youth. There is something a little special about the story in that this bond is between three people of color. Even though race is mentioned sparingly, it informs the DNA of this film in a way that cannot be underestimated. It can be a sometimes silly movie about aging kung fu fighters, but there is a rich cultural baggage that Tran Quoc Bao purposely permeates the film to make sure audiences laugh at the right things for the right reasons. This may be best represented by childhood enemy turned local sifu Carter (Matthew Page with the great Jason Jones in A deviation energy). Carter is a hilarious and misguided instructor who clearly appropriates some sayings while verbally practicing with the trio, but everything is done with conscious intention that adds to the ridiculousness of the situation.
The movie plays out in a fairly predictable fashion until it culminates in a final showdown that puts all the different themes and relationships in a satisfying way. These are characters that you love to follow, so even when the movie is about fifteen minutes too long, you’re not too upset with that. The movie could have been a ninety minute long movie without missing much, but these are the types of lessons you would expect a director to learn on their first feature film. Paper tigers is a fun, impactful world that is very welcoming while providing a heartfelt message that lends a little more weight to the narrative. It’s not perfect, but it’s stronger than a lot of early films. This crowd pleaser is worth your time.
Paper tigers arrives on Blu-Ray with a magnificent 1080p transfer encoded to AVC in 1.85: 1. This film has beautiful pops of color with everything that feels very natural, from the lush landscapes to the vivid hues of the production design. The color scheme remains mostly natural with a stern eye towards darker tones. Where the transfer really shines is the impressive level of detail, even in the most subtle aspects. Everything from the smallest details of the face to the texture of the restaurant interior is quite impressive. The image is generally clear with only brief instances of darkness during a few darker scenes. The black levels are admirable but could be a bit deeper. Skin tones are natural throughout with some crisp detail present in some shots. The film sports luscious cinematography, and that’s pretty well presented here. All in all, it’s a pretty powerful transfer.
The movie comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that’s purposely non-flashy and well-balanced to match the dialogue-driven nature of the feature. The dialogue is crisp and clear without being overwhelmed by any of the other sounds. Environmental and sound effects play a big part in the movie, like landing a punch, and this track brings those elements to life in quite a skillful way. Using the rear channels to create a fully enveloping world works quite well. The directivity is quite precise so the sounds are always present as natural when they come from their respective points. Activity in the low end causes a jerk at a few particular points, but overall potency is an infrequent part of the presentation. Well Go USA delivered a nice track for this hard-hitting and hilarious film.
- A look behind the film: A ten minute featurette in which the cast and crew discuss the themes of the film, their relationship to aspects of the story, the difference between the film and other martial arts films, giving the actors color time to shine and more.
- Tai Tung Restaurant: A two-minute article that takes a look at a restaurant we’d like to visit asap.
- Manufacturing design: A minute-long conversation with production designer Wing Lee during which he discusses the appearance of the film.
- Deleted scenes: A 24-minute collection of unused material featuring more scenes from the guys when they were young, Danny talking to his ex-wife, Jim’s personal life and more. These scenes are presented in a mostly unfinished form as you often hear the director screaming “cut” and seeing the actors enter and exit the character.
- Foolery : Eight minutes of missed lines, ruined takes, alternate lines and more that add some fun to the record.
- Trailer: The two and a half minute trailer is provided here.
Paper tigers is a truly enjoyable directorial debut that taps into the poignant nature of aging while delivering some big laughs and jaw-dropping fight scenes. The trio of lead performers do a great job of bringing these characters to life. The movie could have been simplified a bit more, but that doesn’t take away everything it does well in this lovely tale. Well Go USA delivered a Blu-Ray with a solid A / V layout and a nice array of additional features. If you’re looking for a heartfelt comedy with a few scenes of crispy goodness, look no further. advised
Paper tigers is currently available for purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: The images shown in this review do not reflect the picture quality of Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Well Go USA Entertainment has provided one copy of this disc free of charge for review. All opinions in this review are the honest feedback of the author.
Dillon is more comfortable sitting in a movie theater all day watching big budget movies and independent films.