Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Enter the Fat Dragon: Opening in NY but Not China

If Sammo Hung can do it for real, Donnie Yen can certainly pull off similar moves wearing some extra padding. When a hot-shot Hong Kong cop gets reassigned to the property room, he loses his trim physique, but he still has the same skills. The 1978 Hung fan favorite gets a re-whatevering in the portly shape of Wong Jing & Kenji Tanigaki’s Enter the Fat Dragon, which opens this Friday in New York—but not in China, where its theatrical release was canceled due to Xi Jinping’s super-proactive handling of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Initially, Fallon Zhu is the hardest charging cop on the HK force, but when he publicly embarrasses his superiors, he is transferred from police work to evidence warehousing. He is also dumped by his on-again-off-again fiancĂ©e, Chloe, a semi-famous second tier TV actress. Sitting around depressed in the property cage day after day leads to a lot of snacking. Despite the weight gain, he is happy to get back into action when he is tapped to escort a prisoner extradited (there’s a sensitive word in Hong Kong) back to Japan.

Of course, his dodgy Tokyo PD contact quickly loses the prisoner, but Zhu gets the blame, so he and his Chinese-Japanese interpreter go careening through Tokyo in search of the fugitive (frankly it often doesn’t look much like Tokyo, but so be it). He will also have the help of his former junior-now senior’s goofy expatriate chestnut-hawking pal Thor. Plus, as fate would have it, Chloe is also in Tokyo to make promotional appearances at the behest of the Yakuza front-man pulling all the strings.

The humor of Fat Dragon is definitely goofy and slapstick, but as his own action director (with choreographers Hua Yan and Tanigaki), Yen composes some gloriously loopy fight sequences that could very well equal those of vintage Jackie Chan movies. There is some incredible athleticism and acrobatics on display, much of which Yen performs wearing Santa Clause padding.

Not surprisingly, in the brief moments Wong and Tanigaki try to get serious, the film suddenly gets kind of painful. Nevertheless, Yen and Niki Chao Lai-kei have the kind of manic energy bickering and bouncing off each other that would have pleasantly confused Howard Hawks. Lawrence Chou makes a problematically bland villain when it comes to scheming and sneering, but he has the chops and physicality to hang with Yen throughout their big beatdowns.

Fat Dragon amusingly spoofs classic scenes from Yen’s own films, as well as those of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but the attitude is old school Chan all the way. Frankly, it is uncertain whether Hong Kong police thrillers will have an audience and a future going forward, given the documented widespread and pervasive police brutality unleashed against the young democracy protestors—and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity (80% of the population exposed to tear gas). However, since Fallon Zhu is essentially a HKPF outcast pursuing justice in Japan, Fat Dragon still sort of gets away with it. Hong Kong could use a laugh and this film obliges. Recommended for fans of over-the-top action comedy, Enter the Fat Dragon opens this Friday (2/14) in New York, at the AMC Empire.