I think my first “I have a bad feeling about this” moment came when I saw the minivan. I don’t particularly like family-friendly movies, but I was hoping that this one would surprise me. This feature film promises to display martial arts, so I just had to see how this was accomplished. The result is a bit of a family-oriented packaging with some combat scenes. The matches were not altogether bad, but in the end it’s definitely far from what I would call an action film.
The Paper Tigers was written and directed by Tran Quoc Bao. Three friends who were trained in Kung-Fu together, must get reconnect after learning of the death of their master, their Sifu. Now much older, Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) have lost a lot of their prowess. They somehow must join forces to discover who killed their master and bring the killer down. When the movie begins, the entire training sequence of the kids growing up being trained by their Sifu are rather endearing. This shows potential.
As we transition into present time and the minivan appears, the story takes a left turn into Hallmark avenue. Danny is divorced and shares the custody of his son with his ex-wife Caryn (Jae Suh Park) but keeps making him promises and breaking them… Ok, let’s stop there. I hate this trope of the absentee father that only gets it together after he goes on this one last adventure/match/etc. Hing seems to have a sort of healer role that I found could have been developed further. Jim’s backstory is even less developed but at least he seems to have kept up some of his training.
The fights are the highlight and they are quite decent. I actually found their confrontation with the three young punks that get falsely accused at the beginning a more engaging battle than the showdown with the actual killer. I would have found more engaging and believable if they had decided to train their young adversaries into becoming the new tigers. When their true antagonist emerges (Ken Quitugua, also in charge of the fight choreography), you can tell that he’s superior to them in every way. In an all-out battle, there would’ve been no contest.
Maybe recommended for family audiences with reservations. There is some decent combat, but restrained. It’s not an action film. It’s a family film with some action, the kind that Danny would take his son to see because that’s as much action as his ex-wife would approve. I would’ve preferred the old guard training some new rookies but that didn’t happen. I don’t hate underdog movies, but talent in whatever discipline is contested should win. There is legitimately some martial artists in this film worth watching. Unfortunately they don’t get top billing or screen time.
That will do for now.