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  Paper Tigers, The Back In Training
Year: 2020
Director: Quoc Bao Tran
Stars: Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Matthew Page, Jae Suh Park, Andy Le, Yuji Okumoto, Roger Yuan, Yoshi Sudarso, Peter Adrian Sudarso, Ken Quitugua, Brian Le, Gui DaSilva-Greene, Raymond Ma, Philip Dang, Mark Poletti, Joziah Lagonoy
Genre: Comedy, Thriller, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Danny (Alain Uy) is a divorced dad of one who feels he should be doing better, but the dreaded description "deadbeat" seems to be creeping up on him. It's his son's birthday today, but he's been so busy with work that he has to pick up a present from a street vendor mere yards away from where he is supposed to pick the boy up from his mother, and then bluffs that he will take him to a theme park when he actually does nothing of the sort when work calls again. But Danny was not always like this: he was motivated, and engaged with life, and that was down to his kung fu lessons which gave him a grounding in his early years. However, his master, or Sifu, has unbeknownst to him been murdered, and this provides a wake-up call...

The one aspect that stood out for The Paper Tigers among its many action flick contemporaries hailing from the lower budget end of the spectrum of North America was that it was not some American Ninja-style effort where they got some white guy to star in the lead role, it was resoundingly the Asian American experience that was being served up here, with some humour and good nature. You imagine if they had cast someone white as Danny, they would have had access to a bit more money, and the lack of funds did tend to show here despite director Quoc Bao Tran doing his best with what he had, but he was inventive enough to justify your time, and though the combat could have been more plentiful, what we were offered was pretty impressive for what it was.

Uy was teamed with his character's best friends from his teen years, the now-tubby Hing (Ron Yuan) and the still in shape Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), a black gentleman who is briefly on the receiving end of a racist insult that seemed unnecessary and out of place, even if it did get Jim into fighting mood. That aside, though Hing has his knee in a brace they are all up for the challenge of avenging their Sifu (seen training them in flashbacks with well-cast younger versions) and they turn detective to uncover the source of the mystery with the help of old rival Carter (Matthew Page) who also puts them through their martial arts paces in a manner they did not expect (he's much improved). This whole code they must stick to becomes something of a running joke, but with a serious side, as it gives structure and meaning to what could merely have been an excuse to get into beating people up.

Which was basically what martial arts was, when you boiled it down, never mind all the peaceful lifestyle that went with it, movie buffs didn't watch these for the philosophy so much as they watched them to see bad guys get their asses handed to them with a degree of flair and ability. The Paper Tigers was happy to oblige, but the camaraderie was important too, and while it threatened to grow sentimental it managed to stay the right line of mawkish thanks to some nice playing from the three musketeers of kung fu (budget version). If anything, there was too much of the character stuff at the expense of the action, but nicely, nobody draws a gun, and it was all about the mad skillz with the fists and feet flying rather than who can kill the other: aside from the main villain, no one here wanted to murder anyone else, indeed when he claims he wants to throw Danny off the roof they are on at the finale, it's another weirdly jarring moment in a largely easygoing piece. So the tone could have used a little more work, it's light on the action, but it was likeable and obviously a labour of love. Music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell.

[THE PAPER TIGERS will be the opening film at the Fighting Spirit Film Festival on 11th September, at the Stratford Picturehouse, London and be released on altitude.film and other digital platforms from 20 September 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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