NEW TO THEATERS! In The Paper Tigers, writer/director Bao Tran puts a North American and indie spin on the martial arts genre. The story centers on a middle-aged Danny (Alain Uy), who’s life is falling apart. He’s in the midst of a custody battle with his ex-wife, Caryn (Jae Suh Park), and the limited time he spends with his son, Ed (Joziah Lagonoy), is always interrupted by work.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Danny’s old gung-fu master, Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan), is found dead in an alleyway. His death reunites Danny with his high school friends, Hing (Ron Yuan) and Ray (La’tevin Alexander). As children, the trio became known as The Three Tigers, and they were the immediate disciples of Sifu Cheung. Danny was the heir apparent to Sifu Cheung as the school’s master, but life got in the way, he had a significant falling out with Ray, and the Three Tigers eventually drifted apart.
Danny and Hing’s appearance at Sifu Cheung’s memorial is not exactly welcome. Their rival, Carter (Matthew Page), shames them for abandoning their training and master. And it soon becomes clear that Sifu Cheung was murdered. Danny and Hing are guilted into finding Ray and solving Sifu Cheung’s murder.
“…shames them for abandoning their training and master. And it soon becomes clear that Sifu Cheung was murdered.”
So that’s the basic plot that will eventually tie several martial arts fight sequences together to form a cohesive martial arts movie. What’s different about The Paper Tigers is the suburban spin on Tran Bao’s story. Danny, Hing, and Ray are typical middle-aged wash-ups. Danny is mocked over his age and skinny frame, while Hing is mocked over his age and not-so-skinny frame. Ray, on the other hand, has transitioned to boxing, and his gung-fu skills have all but disappeared.
What works with The Paper Tiger is the story and the fight sequences. Our heroes attempt to return to their prominence in gung-fu while fighting off obvious ring-rust and aging, aching bones and bring honor back to themselves and Sifu Cheung. They ultimately find their confidence from one set of challenges to the next. At each encounter, the trio is always the clear underdog to their more youthful and experienced opponents and, in the end, must recapture their passion and friendship.
The Paper Tigers is primarily a martial arts movie and the action sequences are quite impressive. It’s nowhere near traditional fighting from Jackie Chan, Jet Li, etc., but everyone fights well and the action is exciting. Each fight is choreographed well and individually tells a good story. Each fight forces each The Three Tigers to overcome age and certain handicaps, such as Hing’s busted knee.
The Paper Tigers is worth watching, and I have great respect for Bao Tran’s script and direction. This is an indie film in every sense of the word. Yes, if he had a few million in studio dollars, it would have been shot better, with more daring stunts, and probably would have Tom Hank’s play Danny, but Tran makes the most of what he has control over. His script tells an engaging story with well-developed characters and a few well-placed fart jokes. The action is also shot well, capturing the beauty of movement we associate with martial arts. Tran put the work in, and it pays off big-ly. The Paper Tigers presents a fresh take on an old genre.
"…shot well, capturing the beauty of movement we associate with martial arts…"