By Lynn Venhaus
A crisp throwback to the ‘90s era of martial arts movies, “The Paper Tigers” is a warm-hearted exercise in reconnecting friendships and rekindling your purpose.
Once known as the Kung Fu prodigies “The Three Tigers,” the trio of martial artists are now middle-aged men one kick away from a pulled muscle. Their master teacher, Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan), is murdered, which springs them into action. The childhood friends reunite to avenge him, as they juggle dead-end jobs, dad duties and old grudges.
First-time director Quoc Bao Tran, who also wrote the screenplay, has assembled a trio of likable actors whose chemistry is palpable for this action comedy: Alain Uy as Danny, a divorced dad who works in insurance; Ron Yuan as Hing, out-of-shape trash talker who used to work in hotel security; and Mykel Shannon Jenkins as Jim, who has been estranged from Danny.
Tran benefits from first-rate work by the fight choreographer Ken Quitugua in this low-budget labor of love.
He is banking on the nostalgic appeal of this story to genre fans and those who grew up in the 1990s watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, along martial arts action movies from Jackie Chan, Jean- Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal,
The resurgence of “The Karate Kid” variations and the Netflix hit series “Cobra Kai” will no doubt boost the interest too. One of the actors in those series, Yuji Okumoto, has a small role in this 2020 film.
This movie is best at emphasizing those time-honored traditional themes: Discipline, Honor, Focus, Purpose.
Like the three heroes, the movie takes awhile to find its rhythm. Of course, the old guys will gain the respect of the punk kids they face. Naturally, their childhood rival Carter (Matthew Page of “Enter the Dojo”), even though he’s running Sifu’s school, is still a jerk.
The story is a standard whodunit with little suspense, so all the energy is focused on the three pals gaining strength through their 30-year-old bond. The movie effectively uses flashbacks to show how eager they were as pupils to defend the weak, be loyal and righteous.
The men keep taking lickings and their quips keep ticking. The sound mixing is good at capturing the aches, pains and pummeling.
The film, shot in Seattle, has a resourceful team and their desire to tell this story is obvious. The amiable small film aims for the heart and succeeds.
“The Paper Tigers” is a 2020 action-comedy directed by Quoc Bao Tran and starring Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins and Matt Page. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, offensive slurs, and violence, the movie run time is 1 hour, 48 minutes. It is in theaters and on digital May 7. Lynn’s Grade: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.