Review: Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon (1990)

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon is one of the later films from the kung fu comedy triumvirate of Sammo Hung, Karl Maka and Lau Kar Wing. They’d worked together a decade earlier, producing a string of excellent period kung fu films, like The Odd Couple, Knockabout and Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog. In 1990, though, they reteamed to make this film, a contemporary action movie chronicling the (possibly even madcap, or zany) exploits of two cops, Skinny Tiger (Karl Maka) and Fatty Dragon (Sammo Hung).

Tiger and Dragon are street detectives, operating fairly low to the ground on the streets of Hong Kong, very happy to bend the rules to breaking point to get results. Their superintendent covers for them because they get results and make him look good, so they’re pretty much given a free rein. As the film opens, their attention is occupied by a triad syndicate running cocaine, operated by a man named Prince Tak (Lung Ming Yan).

Trying to bust the syndicate smuggling drugs, our heroes get themselves in serious trouble, accidentally molesting a female member of the criminal gang who presses charges (Carrie Ng) and ruining the police deputy commissioner’s wedding. They’re subsequently ordered out of Hong Kong for a while, going to Singapore instead to wait out the controversy and plan a new life. Naturally, they’re drawn back into the case and a showdown with Prince Tak and his brother, played by Lau Kar Wing himself.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon is an interesting film. It possesses that many-toned feel that a lot of the really good HK films have, in that it seems to switch abruptly from broad slapstick, to verbal comedy, to vicious action sequence, to tearful drama. Some copywriters would describe it as a rollercoaster ride and probably call it madcap again, too. Nevertheless, the film is primarily lighthearted and a bit thin, but Maka and Hung romp their way through it having a great deal of fun. Maka plays the wisecracking smart guy of the duo, chasing girls with a twinkle in his eye and concocting elaborate plots. Sammo provides the muscle and often plays the straight man, though he gets the occasional laugh himself.

The action sequences are great, with a mix of the physical comedy we’re used to seeing from Sammo Hung’s films and some hard contemporary boxing and kickboxing. Sammo’s fighting in particular and much of the choreography is very closely modelled on Bruce Lee’s films, with his character emitting Bruce’s distinctive sounds and yells and closely imitating his mannerisms. Several fight scenes are direct homages to those in Bruce’s films, and Sammo shows a deft ability with nunchukus. Sammo really does look great, and Karl Maka does very well, too, doing quite a bit of fighting and taking some very punishing-looking falls.

Fans of the genre will spot some familiar faces in there, too: obviously, there’s Lau Kar Wing playing a bad guy and squaring up to Sammo in quite an impressive fight scene. There’s also Mark Houghton, a senior student of Lau family kung fu and regular Westerner in Lau films, and action directors Hung Yan Yan and Ridley Tsui make brief appearances as well.

Check it out. It’s a lighthearted HK action comedy that’s actually very funny, with some great fight scenes and excellent comic timing from the two leads. This is the best I’ve seen from Karl Maka, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

8.5 former Miss Singapore winners out of 10.
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