The Daily Stream: 'The Paper Tigers' is a Cornball Martial Arts Dad Comedy
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: The Paper Tigers
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: Three former martial arts geniuses known as the “Three Tigers” have grown into disillusioned middle-aged men who have long given up the art of Gung Fu. But when their estranged martial arts master is found dead, they dust off their skills to find the person responsible and avenge their fallen master’s death. If they can do it without pulling a few muscles, that would be ideal.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: The Paper Tigers is the equivalent of a movie walking up to you and saying, “Hi Hungry, I’m Dad,” then kicking your ass. And it’s great.
The Paper Tigers is the most “Dad movie” to emerge out of the low-budget martial arts comedy genre, and I say that as a compliment. A low-budget action-comedy that pays loving tribute to the ’80s kung fu comedies that its creators likely grew up on, The Paper Tigers follows three former martial arts prodigies, now middle-aged sadsacks, who reconnect after the death of their former master Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan). When they were (slightly troubled) youths, they were at the top of the world — undefeatable, even by the many martial arts students who challenged them over the years. They were so impressive that they earned themselves the name “The Three Tigers,” which they proudly bore as a sign of respect to their beloved master. But the years passed, and the three of them fell out with each other, then with Sifu Cheung.
Directed by Tran Quoc Bao and starring Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins, The Paper Tigers could simply be noteworthy for its focus on three BIPOC middle-aged characters, all struggling to deal with that fickle bastard, aging. Uy stars as Danny, the former leader of the pack who is now a deadbeat dad and exhausted accountant struggling to live up to his young son’s wide-eyed love for him. When Hing (Yuan) crashes back in his life with a bum knee and the news that their Sifu had died from an apparent heart attack, it doesn’t take much to drag Danny back into the martial arts world, where he and his former fellow “Tigers” are routinely mocked and shown up by younger, flashier fighters. But amid the silly slapstick and the goofy digs about each others’ weight and wrinkles, there’s a sincere arc for all three characters as they learn not to try and recapture their glory years, but rather to heal the scars they didn’t realize they still carried.
The Paper Tigers is not anything profound or life-changing. If anything, it’s weighed down a little too heavily by its adherence to the goofy kung fu comedy template, with one too many cross-eyed faces and clichéd jokes that barely earn more than a chuckle. To be honest, a lot of the comedy really wasn’t for me. But thanks to some bruising, hard-hitting fight choreography courtesy of action director Ken Quitugua (who also plays the rippling baddie) and that cheesy, cornball sincerity, The Paper Tigers turns into a charming Dad joke of a movie. You roll your eyes, but you smile all the same.
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