|Big stars teaming up for projects is nothing new, if there's the potential to double your audience then everything from Road to Morocco to Rain Man will have tried that trick, it’s a well-worn almost guarantee of getting the punters in. Just look at the Marvel model: you may prefer Spider-Man to Captain America, but someone will feel the opposite, and they will both be keen to see anything the studio can put them together in. Therefore in 1990, it was an obvious choice to put two Hong Kong comedy and action stars together in the same movie, which turned out to be Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon.
Once you know the celebrities taking the floor were Karl Maka and Sammo Hung, then the script practically wrote itself. Yes, this was yet another film where Sammo played a character called Fatty thanks to his (actually carefully maintained) round shape, which left Maka to play Skinny, seeing as how he was relatively lean, although they may as well have called him Baldy Tiger given how many references to his shaven pate there were. They fitted the criteria of a comedy duo not resembling one another, all the better for the audience identification, though personality-wise, they were not so different.
The plot had it that Fatty and Skinny were cops, so we were in the mismatched buddy movie territory already, leaving the viewer comfortable that nothing too surprising was going to happen, and introduced trying to arrest a gang of hoods who are causing trouble at a convenience store. But soon this leads them on the trail of "Cocaine" Wing (played by the director, Lau Kar-wing) who draws on seemingly every resource he has to better his pursuers. This includes fleeing from Hong Kong to Singapore, apparently so the region could get a boost to its tourist industry by appearing in a hit movie, as much of the plot unfolds there.
The action, as expected, came thick and fast, and if Maka did not indulge quite as much as Sammo, his co-star went the extra mile when it came to beating up the bad guys with his legendary agility, despite his frame. The running joke was that Fatty was a major Bruce Lee fan (and Sammo had worked with the martial arts icon on Enter the Dragon, hence this film's title, a combination of that and the Tiger on the Beat series), so Sammo copied Bruce's moves, his gestures (rubbing a thumb across his nose, that sort of thing), and naturally, the trademark Bruce Lee yells, a conceit they committed to with a measure of gimmicky success.
But then there was the comedy, and here Sammo, with his broad sense of humour and cheerful bad taste tendencies, let the side down somewhat. In the twenty-first century climate, beating up minorities is, well, frowned upon to say the least, but back in 1990 the Thai Ladyboys were big news, so Lau put a pair in his movie to combat the heroes. While there was something empowering about seeing transwomen holding their own in martial arts, the fact they were beaten to a pulp eventually was more difficult to take as comedy: one even appears topless, apparently reasoning their breasts were technically male, like moobs (!), therefore permitted in a non-Category III movie.
Eureka release Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon on Blu-ray and with the above caveat, it should provide decent entertainment for martial arts fans, even if the comedy lets it down in places, though Sammo and Maka were too adept not to get at least a few laughs. But take a look at the cast list and there is the name Mark Houghton: who he? Watch Disc 2 of this two-disc set and you'll find out, as he was a Western stuntman working in Hong Kong who was given a chance by Lau Kar-Leung and appeared in a number of movies by him and others. He was the subject of a film documentary, I Am The White Tiger, and that is what you get here in its entirety as a special feature, including clips aplenty of his work.
Houghton opens up in the documentary about his struggles with depression and how injuries took their toll on his career, but also how now, in 2018, he is in a better place. Given the amount of Westerners who show up in Hong Kong movies in bit and supporting roles, and you never find out anything about them other than casually wondering how that white guy got in there, I Am the White Tiger at least has that note of interest, though you imagine the disc that will have the most replay value will be Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon on the first. That final fight it presents in particular is something of a monster, and the sheer physicality, even in a comparatively prosaic setting as here, proves once again Hong Kong movies of this era were happy to save the best for last every time when it came to the kung fu.
[Those special features from the Eureka Blu-ray set in full:
Limited Edition of 3000 copies only | O-Card Slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling | Bonus Disc: I Am The White Tiger (2018, dir. Chiu Lee) | PLUS: A Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver
DISC ONE: SKINNY TIGER AND FATTY DRAGON
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration | Original Cantonese mono audio | Optional English dubbed audio | Optional English Subtitles, newly translated for this release | Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) and martial artist / actor Robert "Bobby" Samuels | Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema | Brand new interview with stuntman and martial artist Mark Houghton | Archival interview with director Lau Kar-wing | Archival interview with actor, stuntman, and action choreographer Ridley Tsui | Deleted Scene | Trailers
BONUS DISC: I AM THE WHITE TIGER
Documentary on the career of stuntman, martial artist, and action director Mark Houghton.]