Fantasia Film Festival: The Paper Tigers Review

The Paper Tigers

Zero-to-hero films have been a staple of the film industry for as long as the industry has been around. Filmmakers used this cinematic trope to help inspire us or tell us grand tales of redemption. Bao Tran’s The Paper Tigers involves the latter. The film follows three former martial arts prodigies who are now washed-up middle-aged men. When their Shifu mysteriously dies, the three former friends must come together to investigate his death. Although The Paper Tigers follows some familiar tropes and themes, the film coasts on by through the chemistry of its Three Tigers. Through them, we realize that despite the years apart, brothers will always be brothers.

Tran’s film doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel with The Paper Tigers. The theme of rediscovering who they used to be as youngsters is a trope we’ve seen in zero-to-hero films before. A most recent example being the hit YouTube Premium/Netflix series, “Cobra Kai.” Much like the series, The Paper Tigers feature characters with some recognizable difficulties that most middle-aged men go through. Anyone around the age of 40 will tell you that the life you envisioned for yourself in your 20s will rarely play itself out by the time you’re 40. As the film teaches you, though, rediscovering your youth may help in moving past the differences from yesteryear.

As the characters begin to bond over their Shifu’s death, the film begins to open up about their brotherly relationship. There’s an improvisational feeling to a lot of the comedy since the comedy feels natural between close friends. Thanks to the cast’s undeniable chemistry, their camaraderie becomes infectious. Many of the sequences in the film, while not always laugh-out-loud funny, are extremely enjoyable. The characters deliver witty remarks and wisecracks at each other at every opportunity — just like close friends do. Not to mention, the film features some hilarious slapstick style comedy that pokes fun at these middle-aged men trying the same martial arts moves from when they were younger.

The Paper Tigers - Ron Yuan, Alain Uy, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins

However, some of the conflicts in the film are more solid than others. For example, the conflict between Danny and Jim is a reason why the Three Tigers broke up, but you don’t see it come into play when they’re all together. For the most part, though, the internal and external conflicts in the film do add some depth to them and provide a heartfelt resolution to their character arcs. 

In case you forgot, The Paper Tigers is also a murder mystery. The film, however, put more emphasis on the characters than it does with the murder mystery. It plays more like a catalyst for the character drama than a complement to it. In other words, their investigation into the murder of their Shifu drives Danny, Hing, and Jim to overcome their internal struggles and become better men out of this. Despite the secondary nature of the murder mystery, Tran does a solid job of keeping the audience guessing until the ultimate reveal.

It’s clear from the get-go that Tran is a fan of martial arts films new and old. The film’s action choreography takes inspiration for the new-age fluid choreography from the legend, Yuen Woo-Ping. Not to mention, the use of the “echo” movement pays homage to the Bruce Lee classic, Fist of Fury. In a way, the Three Tigers’ journey to honor their Shifu’s legacy is similar to how Tran pays homage to the martial arts genre with The Paper Tigers

Overall, The Paper Tigers is an entertaining film despite a wholly familiar premise. But behind the charismatic chemistry of the Three Tigers, The Paper Tigers shows us that life may not go the way we plan, but your brothers will always be there when you need them.

Rating: 3.5/5 atoms

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