Review for Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon
This is something I have long wanted to watch. Not this film specifically, but rather any film where Sammo Hung unleashes his Bruce Lee impersonation, ever since I first saw a clip on Youtube. The idea of moves characteristic to the iconic wiry muscled physique of Bruce Lee, displayed by the less than lithe stature of Sammo Hung seemed aimed right at my tickle bone. But once I had the check disc in my hands, I had a realisation. I haven’t watched many Bruce Lee movies, indeed have never really been interested in that seventies era of kung fu. I’m not going to get the nuances of Sammo Hung’s impersonation, and at best I'm really only comparing him to other homages. Still, I’m not averse at any time to another Sammo Hung kung fu comedy.
Baldy Tiger and Fatty Dragon are cops, partners who take a less than ethical approach to their work. Tiger has an eye for the women, which makes for a complicated relationship with his girlfriend, who wants to set a date for a wedding. Dragon on the other hand has an obsession with Bruce Lee that he brings to his work. For them it’s the results that count more than the methods, and you might see their point in a Hong Kong that has a drug problem. They are on a crusade against a mob criminal named Dak, who they see as a stepping stone to Cocaine Wing. But their unprincipled violent tactics go too far when they arrest Dak, and they wind up suspended from duty. While they take a vacation in Singapore, Dak plots his revenge, and he imports a couple of Thai assassins to make his point.
It’s worth seeking out the first run Limited Edition release, as it alone will come with a second disc, which contains an award winning documentary on martial arts actor Matthew Houghton, “I Am the White Tiger”
Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and you have the choice between PCM 1.0 mono Cantonese and English, as well as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English dub. There are two subtitle tracks, English for the Cantonese audio, and a partial English subtitle track to deal with those odd moments that weren’t dubbed into English in the dub tracks. The film gets a 2k restoration, and it’s just what you’d hope for. The image is clear and sharp, a proper filmic experience with a discreet level of film grain, and colours are rich and strong, making the most of the 1990 production and costume design (more eighties than nineties). However the film is filled with continuity goofs, with Sammo’s hairstyle changing from scene to scene. I was happy with the Cantonese audio track which was clear and free of issues, the action and music comes across well, while the dialogue is clear throughout. The subtitles are free of typos and accurately timed.
Disc 1 boots to a static menu and you’ll find the following extras with the film.
Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels
Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Interview with Mark Houghton (2021) (6:35)
Archive Interview with director Lau Kar-Wing (25:47)
Archive Interview with action director Ridley Tsui (19:18)
Extended Taiwanese Fight Scene (8:24)
International Trailer (5:32)
Disc 2 of the first run Limited Edition brings us the “I Am The White Tiger” documentary, which looks at the life and career of actor, stuntman, action director and more, Mark Houghton, who appears in the Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon film. It lasts 79:47, is presented in 2.00:1 aspect ratio with PCM 2.0 Stereo audio. It’s a really interesting and well made documentary, with the man relating his own life story, making for a personal and emotive piece. It’s well worth watching.
The first run release also gets a 24 page booklet about the film, with writing from James Oliver and plenty of stills and production imagery.
I’m glad that Eureka Entertainment will be releasing some Yuen Biao movies this year, as I’m beginning to get a handle on what the Sammo Hung kung fu comedies from the late eighties and early nineties will generally be like. A little variety will be good at this point. You can expect some very goofy comedy, very politically incorrect, and bound to offend some modern 21st Century sensibilities. There will also be some awesome action sequences, and a degree of brutality that will seem totally out of touch with the film’s sense of humour. Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon definitely has all of this, but it also has that semi-unique selling point, Sammo Hung’s character Dragon channelling Bruce Lee in his kung fu. And I have to say that it worked for me, I enjoyed the film and laughed throughout, even when I should have known better.
Tiger and Dragon are two cops that tend to take the easy route to solving their cases, something their chief tolerates as long as the results they deliver outweigh the mayhem and danger that they cause. He’s happy to cover up their misdemeanours, which is demonstrated when the first lead they follow is one where a cross dresser is smuggling drugs in a bra in a shopping mall. They investigate this by targeting likely looking women and copping a feel. Luckily the film doesn’t dwell on this too long before they find the suspect, but they’ll have given their target Dak a legal out of any trouble by the harassment they inflict. Thereafter, they target Dak’s girlfriend Lai, trying to convince her to turn on him, blackmailing her when persuasion fails to work. It’s a cat and mouse dynamic that eventually gets out of hand, when Dragon and Tiger eventually cause embarrassment that their superiors can no longer overlook.
They wind up suspended, and in the weirdest interlude in the film they take a vacation in Singapore, which turns the movie into a kind of rom-com, as they meet a couple of local girls who like them enough to bankroll them into opening a local karaoke bar. They head back to Hong Kong to quit their jobs, and for Tiger to try and sneak out on his girlfriend. But while they’ve been away Dak has been plotting his revenge, and he’s hired a couple of transsexual assassins from Thailand to do his dirty work. You may be getting flashbacks to Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars at this point.
That’s the humour, but there is also the brutal edge to the violence, with Dragon pulling out a gun and blowing away a gang of jewel thieves early on, in a room full of hostages. The big villain of the piece, Cocaine Wing channels his inner Al Capone at one point, disposing of a snitch at the dinner table, freaking all the other guests out, although he doesn’t use a baseball bat.
Despite that disdainful tone you might pick up from the previous paragraphs, it’s still enough for me to enjoy the film, the comedy working well enough to entertain, and the action is imaginative and choreographed well. And the real joy is in Sammo Hung channelling Bruce Lee’s fighting style. He’s got the attitude, and has the effective power in his moves to really sell it.
Taken by itself, Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon is an enjoyable but forgettable romp, replete with outdated attitudes, but pulling through on the chutzpah of its comedy. It would be a second tier Eureka kung-fu release otherwise, the point where Hong Kong Legends were hitting diminishing returns with their catalogue, but by adding the I Am The White Tiger documentary to the first run release, it makes it a must have release for any kung fu movie fan. It’s also a reminder that no matter how much I have seen, I’ll never have seen it all. I had never heard of Mark Houghton before, never seen any film that he had been in until Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon, but the inclusion of the documentary had me adjourning to IMDB. It turns out that he’s had roles in dozens of Hong Kong movies, a significant career.