Aging isn’t exactly fun to think about, but it’s a fact of life, so we may as well deal with it with as much grace and humor as we can. Quoc Bao Tran’s feature-length debut The Paper Tigers does that pretty well, while also reminding us that no matter how old we are, we probably still have some growing up to do. Inspired by his own friendships from his time studying martial arts in his youth, his film follows Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan), and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), three middle-aged men who in their younger days were best friends and well-regarded students of kung fu under Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan) but who are now estranged and dealing with the complications of adulthood (menial jobs, family, aches and pains, etc…).
While he is spending time with his son Ed (Joziah Lagonoy), Danny is surprised by Hing, who informs him that their Sifu has passed away and the funeral is the next day. At the service, their rival Carter (Matthew Page) suggests that Cheung’s death wasn’t a heart attack as the autopsy suggested, but rather something more nefarious and implicates a group of disrespectful teenagers who have been teaching themselves kung fu. Persuaded by Carter’s theory, Danny and Hing track down Jim and the trio put aside their grievances with each other to figure out what happened to their Sifu and make sure that justice is served.
It’s a relatively simple story of the sort that has been told many times before. As such there aren’t really any surprises here, with things playing out basically exactly as you expect them to. That doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the movie however. The three leads have a great chemistry together, and it’s a lot of fun watching their characters reconnect with each other and their youthful ideals. The fight sequences are well-staged and mix in a good amount of comedy without resorting to simple slapstick. Watching the men, in various states of fitness, try to remember everything they’d learned in their youth contributes much of the humor, but also adds a good deal of relatability to the story. While the formula may be conventional, using it to tell a sweet story about getting older isn’t, and it makes for an endearingly satisfying way to spend a few hours. ★★★
rated pg-13 for some strong language, offensive slurs, and violence.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor