Monday, February 17, 2020

Enter the Fat Dragon '20

I'm kind of mildly surprised that it took this long for Well Go and other distributors of Chinese films in North America to fall back on the movies that opened for the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong after the Mainland films were wiped out by the coronavirus outbreak. I suspect there was a lot of "this will just last a week" and then it didn't and then the window was closed for stuff without crossover appeal like this, where folks in North America know Yen and you could probably cut a decent trailer by pulling English-language lines out of the movie. It wasn't particularly crowded on Sunday afternoon despite a theater right next to Boston's Chinatown feeling like a really good place for a Donnie Yen film to open. I've got no idea how the combination of a few weeks to get bootlegs out, the local population seeming to generally prefer Mandarin-language films, and Yen being a contentious figure among the Cantonese-speaking audience plays into that

Still, it's a fun hour and a half, and has Yen pulling a lot more from Jackie Chan's comic action playbook than usual. He's got comedic chops and playing a likable dork kind of agrees with him, so seeing him put a lot more slapstick into his fights than he has in the past worked well. It's a bummer that the first film with this name is kind of hard to find in the US right now - the DVD on Amazon has a bit of that "may be a bootleg" look to it - so hopefully we'll get a decent Region A Blu-ray of Sammo Hung's film out of this one's release.

Fei lung gwoh gong (Enter the Fat Dragon) '20

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2020 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

This colorful, fast-paced bit of kung fu silliness works well enough that I'm not sure why they bothered to put Donnie Yen in a fat suit. It really doesn't affect how he moves or the story at all, and there aren't even that many jokes at the expense of his character's weight. Did someone just have the remake rights to Sammo Hung's film and figure it would add 5% to the take or something?

Yen plays "Fallon" Zhu Fulong, a cop whose career has stagnated because his ability to catch the bad guys is cancelled out by the collateral damage he causes, both in terms of Hong Kong in general, within the HKPD, and with fiancée Chloe Song (Niki Chow Lai-Kei). In the aftermath of a bank robbery, he's reassigned to a property room, and not being able to exercise after an injury has his appetite way ahead of his metabolism, so six months later, he's packed on a hundred pounds before his old partner Shing Huang (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) gives him a milk run mission to extradite Japanese porn director Yuji (Hiro Hayama) to Tokyo. Except that Japanese detective Endo (Naoto Takenaka) lets Yuji escape, interpreter Maggie (Jessica Jann) seems like something of an airhead, and the help Shing refers Fallon to is his old partner Thor (Wong Jing), who has been in Japan for ten years trying to stay close to Charisma (Teresa Mo Sun-Kwan) and her nephew Tiger (Lin Qiunan). Oh, and yakuza Shimakura (Joey "Tee" Iwanaga) just happened to see Yuji on the plane to Tokyo, where he was traveling with Chloe, who is big in Japan and has been hired as a spokesperson for one of Shimakura's fronts.

That's potentially a lot going on but also not quite enough as it plays out; for all that producer Wong Jing and his co-writers set up all these threads to follow, they all get picked up and discarded in fairly haphazard fashion. Wong Jing and Teresa Mo are plenty of fun in this movie, for instance, but all the time spent with them could maybe have gone to Fallon actually tracking down Yuji and realizing he's got to do more detective work because the crazy kung fu stuff is harder carrying this weight, giving Chloe something to do while she's in Japan (or, heck, deciding just how good/popular an actress she is, as that seems to change based on what a given scene needs), or the like. This sort of martial-arts comedy has never really needed a terribly coherent plot, but it seems sloppier than usual here, and more like a missed opportunity.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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