AKA SAU FOO FEI LUNG
AVALABLE ON BLU-RAY: 21st February, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Womanising Baldy Tiger and fearless Fatty Dragon are a pair of detectives whose methods of fighting crime aren’t exactly by the book. They’re currently after a gang of drug traffickers, but while trying to arrest a transvestite suspect, they accidentally molest Lai, a real woman and another of the criminals, who presses charges against them. The pair concoct a plan to frame Lai and end up apprehending her boss, “Prince” Tak, at the same time. However, they destroy the Deputy Commissioner’s wedding reception in the process and are ordered out of Hong Kong. After cooling their heels in Singapore, they decide to resign from the force and run a Karaoke bar there, but fate might intervene to bring them back into action….
Featuring buddy cops who rival Alan Arkin and James Caan in Freebie And The Bean [which may have been an inspiration seeing as some scenes are very similar] in their unethical approach, and whose antics we’re intended to laugh at even when they aren’t very nice at all, Skinny Tiger And Fatty Dragon a hugely entertaining ride as long as you’re not particularly politically correct – but then if you’re buying this you’ve probably seen other Hong Kong action comedies of this era so have an idea of what to expect. Yet this is a much more balanced and likeable film than at least two of the Lucky Stars films which also combined blistering martial arts with mostly low humour. Our duo aren’t always easy to like as they beat up suspects, blackmail informers, fondle women’s breasts and key cars in their pursuit of their quarry, and one of them is a real sleazeball with other women spouting lines like “that low-hanging arse, bet she’s great in bed”, despite having a serious girlfriend who’s tall so she’s called….Tall Girl, yet it is also possible to laugh at their outrageousness [if these are the good guys, how bad must the bad guys be?], the comedy doesn’t slow down the plot much, and we’re always aware of the dangers that face Baldy and Fatty in what is a real fast paced 100 minutes despite the middle section which is a sojourn in Singapore. And Hung must be one of the best of the many Bruce Lee impersonators. When not fighting, he’s his typical self, but when he’s fighting, he copies Lee’s poses and mannerisms, and does a few of his famous movies, yet still retains his own style of fighting and choreography. Therefore it really does come across as a tribute rather than yet another crass cash-in on the Little Dragon. As for his disco dancing, well, it’s either dreadful or awesome but he puts his all into it and you won’t forget it in a hurry.
This wasn’t actually the first time Hung mimicked Lee. His Lee-inspired fight scene in Shanghai Express with Cynthia Rothrock is well known among Hong Kong cinema fans, but in 1978 he’d starred in Enter The Fat Dragon, which was a variation on Way Of The Dragon. He played a pig farmer and a devoted Lee fan who’s anxious to follow in Lee’s footsteps, but is only ridiculed for his attempts. Skinny Tiger And Fatty Dragon had the same screenwriter, Kaung Ni who also plays Fatty’s father, but the two films aren’t connected with each other. In fact it was originally titled Tiger On The Beat 3. There was worry that Phillip Ko, who’d worked on the earlier two Tiger on the Beat films action comedies starring Conan Lee for Cinema City, would make a film with that title, so the studio announced the title first, causing their rival company to come up with another name. Once the rival company had their title resolved, Cinema City retitled this movie again to Skinny Tiger And Fatty Dragon. Hung’s last few films had disappointed at the box office, so this was his attempt at a popular success, with veteran jack of all trades Lau Kar-Wing in the director’s chair. Wing the Big Boss was originally going to be black in an obvious tribute to Game Of Death. Co-star Mark Houghton was told to find a suitable candidate, but he unintentionally offended some local black people. Houghton thought he’d be in trouble for this, so he told Kar-wing that he couldn’t find any appropriate bodies, knowing that Kau-Wing would be happy to step in to play the role. For some reason the distributors requested that the final fight sequence be shortened, so Hung fighting Mark Houghton and then Lau Kar-Wing were truncated a bit; only the Taiwanese version has then in full. The film was indeed a hit.
It’s Baldy who we first see, disguised as a shop worker in order to stop some thieves. He soon reveals himself and a brief fight ensures. Maka can’t really fight but makes a valiant effort to look good and fight choreographers Ridley Tsui, Xin Xin Xiong and Kar-Wing [but not Hung, oddly] do their best. Baldy holds a gun to them and asks who their boss is, after which he lets them go – and they promptly run out of the shop and run into Fatty who was just reading a Bruce Lee comic. “I’m in charge inside, he’s in charge outside” says Skinny, thereby giving Fatty free reign to beat them up again. What he wants to know is where “Johnny Boy” lives, and he gets his answer and lets them go before yelling “robbery” – whereupon some uniformed police chase after them. And if you think is a bit heavy handed, wait until you see, for example, their rough treatment of a doorman, holding him upside down twice. Or when Baldy grabs a fruit cart from a poor seller and crashes it in into the fleeing Johnny Boy. I can’t imagine him apologising afterwards. Johnny Boy is sitting in a car while his boys are robbing a jewelry shop. While Baldy deals with Johnny Boy and another fleeing bad guy, Fatty sorts out the rest. Johnny’s boss Prince Tak is engaged in a deal where his assistant and girlfriend Tai places some drugs in the bra of a transvestite. So, this film being what it is, our heroes have to go around a shopping mall groping strange women and even venture into a ladies changing room and check out who’s in the showers. Fatty acts like he’s not too keen on doing this, yet he tells his partner to search Tai. “You said I should always share a bargain with you” is his reason when Baldy enquires about this. The transvestite escapes after delivering a few kicks to Fatty and is never seen again even though two transgender folk turn up later. Their boss Wu isn’t too bothered about the havoc Baldy and Fatty have caused, nor their dubious methods, because they get results.
However, their excess is soon going to get them in trouble with the higher-ups. They manage to get out of one tight spot with the bad buys by pretending they’re robbers, but Lai sees through them and suggests they meet in a warehouse, which you just know is not going to be safe for them. A chase leads into a restaurant where the Deputy Commissioner’s wedding reception is taking place, and it’s no wonder that Fatty injuring the best man, hurling Tak into tables then both of them jumping up and down on an upside down table with their quarry underneath displeases the Commissioner. So, before you can say Running Scared, the two just have to go and lie low for a bit. One funny moment as they arrive in Singapore has the two see a crowd of people looking at the sea; they think they’ve seen a dead body. but they’re just looking at the sunrise. They enjoy hanging out there with two young ladies so much that they decide to stay there and open a karaoke bar. The girls are willing to put up the money after all, so why not? This section, which includes a lengthy karaoke and dancing scene, seems to slow down the film for some, but it isn’t really very long and we never forget that the villains are still after them. The heavies don’t seem particularly threatening for a while, but we’ve already been Wing the boss execute an incompetent underling at a dinner with lots of other villains present in a scene cribbed from The Untouchables, then these two transsexual assassins show up, vicious killers who we’re allowed to see murder people and even a dog in both quick lethalness and prolonged fighting before facing off with Fatty.
You’re never far away from a chase or a fight, with Hung showcasing his considerable skill and his considerable power as he bests various groups of bad guys in a warehouse, a building under construction [always a good setting for a fight] which has Heart Of The Dragon vibes, a back street full of cafes, and a chemical plant. Hung’s brutal battle with the trans sexuals is a real highlight, full of great leaps and dangerous falls, though of course the most powerful opponent is Wing himself, seeing as he’s played by Kar-Wing. He’s able to show his more conventional, technically-accurate mastery of the martial arts in an interesting confrontation which, much like his even shorter brawl with Mark Houghton, should have been retained at its original length. Still, the Houghton fight has one really jaw -dropping shot. Hung quite clearly kicks Houghton painfully in the face, which is very common in these films where blows were often for real, but here Houghton ‘s fall is clearly a genuine reaction rather than a planned act and it’s still disconcerting to see it so obviously! Throughout, Hung mimics Lee’s war cries, poses and actions, with references to many of Lee’s fight sequences. For example, at one point he holds a henchman’s hair just like when Lee held Jackie Chan’s before snapping his neck in Enter The Dragon. At another he taps two mental bars together as in Game Of Death. And boy is Hung good with the nunchuku. But this kind of thing does not take over; we’re still recogniseably watching Hung do his usual stuff his usual way. He just mingles the Lee stuff in nicely. There are some major continuity errors with his changing hairstyle though.
The comedy generally isn’t particularly extended. Even a farce sequence where Baldy and Fatty have to hide in Lai’s bedroom [though due to his size Fatty can’t quite close a closet door properly] while Tak and Lai decide to have some fun is fairly brief. There’s little actual hilarity, though I couldn’t help but find Baldy’s continual crudity a bit amusing because you probably wouldn’t have the character be like that if the film was made today. Some of the best bits are minor, like Baldy crying at something playing on a TV he passes in the shopping mall; it seems so out of character for someone who appears totally insensitive, though is never followed through. The enjoyment is maybe lessened a little by Baldy’s cheating on Tall Girl back home, who wants to marry him, though we just know that this subplot is going to resolve itself happily. As for Fatty, he’s just a loser with women. He pines after a co-worker, but when he eventually plucks up the courage to ask her out, she kisses him on the cheek before giving him tickets – to her wedding. We like it when he finds a lady friend in Singapore, unlike Baldy who’s happy to kick Lai in the crotch when she’s not being aggressive to him. Yes, there’s plenty of the typical Hung violence to women here, though they usually give as good as they get, and his girlfriend really beats him up. I see it more as a perhaps misjudged attempt at equal opportunities. Everyone can get punched or kicked in one of these films, though because we don’t often see women beaten about as much as the men and consider them to be the frailer sex, it’s understandable that it’s a bit off putting to some viewers [and I will say that the American recut of Mr Nice Guy does seem to be a better watch for removing most of the bits where its female characters are subjected to violence from the bad guys]. But in general Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon is a cracking and rather underrated buddy cop comedy actioner that most definitely could have done with a sequel.
Eureka present Skinny Tiger And Fatty Dragon in a typically excellent restoration with vivid colours and just the right level of grain. I briefly compared the picture to my Hong Kong Legends DVD and the difference is very striking, so if you like the film and the special features don’t tempt you, the picture quality should!
SPECIAL FEATURES [LIMITED EDITION Two Disc Set – 3000 copies]
O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling
Limited Edition Bonus Disc: I Am The White Tiger [2018, dir. Chiu Lee]
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver
Original Cantonese mono audio
Optional English dubbed audio
After around 1981/1982 I tend to watch these films in Cantonese, because for me the English dubs lost their flavour and flair. However, I did switch over to the English dub for this film a few times. The meaning of some lines is altered and the voices don’t seem particularly enthusiastic, though I’ve heard far worse.
Optional English Subtitles, newly translated for this release
Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels
Eureka ditch the Bey Logan audio commentary and Houghton interview that were on the Honk Kong Legends, but more than make up for this. It seems that Samuels will be Djeng’s frequent partner now on these tracks, and that’s a very good thing. The two balance each other well, with Djeng having a bit more knowledge while Samuels has the experience. Though perhaps slightly less livelier than Leeder and Venema, some probably prefer them for not being silly at times! As usual Djeng also explains a lot of cultural things which we wouldn’t pick up on; curiously some terms aren’t always the same as the subtitle translations, while Samuels makes some interesting observations such as that Hung’s brother is probably doing some of his flips. The huge political incorrectness is spoken about though not as much as you may expect. Well, it’s not really a big deal to most of us Hong Kong movie fans, is it?
Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Leeder and Venema provide one of their liveliest tracks for this film, sounding particularly enthusiastic and providing great interplay. They say how much the film is a time capsule, while Leeder, having first experienced his films in their cut UK versions, says that he wasn’t initially a fan of Lee until Hung sat him down, lectured him and made his watch his copies of the films on laserdisc. We also learn why the Hong Kong police supplied equipment despite the way they were depicted; they’d be given a very different script to the one that’s actually filmed, then claimed they had to make changes when the film came out! Some nostalgia for those non-PC times is also expressed. I can only agree.
Interview with Mark Houghton (2021) 6 mins]
The Djeng/Samuels track mentioned about this audio interview with the martial artist and stuntman who you’ll being hearing and also seeing a lot more of if you’ve bought this two-disc set [there will probably be a later release without the second disc]. Houghton says how Wing was more laid back than his brother Lau Kar-Leung and describes his fight scene with and kicking by Hung in detail, something Hung repaid him for when he invited Houghton to spend another week on the set in full pay despite not having to do anything.
Archive Interview with director Lau Kar-Wing [25 mins]
Wing begins by describing how he learnt martial arts as a boy by sneaking into his father’s school and watching, before going into some detail about Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon and working with Hung in general. Hung would tend to use him when he needed an actor for a small part which required fighting expertise. We hear how primitive things were, such as a wire rather than a crane being the thing which lifted the camera, and also that, after the first cut, Maka decided to remove some action and add some comedy.
Archive Interview with action director Ridley Tsui [20 mins]
The guy with glasses who gets it from Hung in the film, Tsui describes his early career in Peking Opera before moving on to stunt work, including a fall that he miscalculated and ending up breaking his ankles and needing six months in hospital to recover. Being the main action director, he would often suggest Lee-derived things for the performers to do. He also points out much of the doubling.
Extended Taiwanese Fight Scene [8 mins]
While the extra footage in the Houghton and Wing fights only adds up to around a minute, it’s all good stuff. Watching it, one finally understands Houghton’s mentioning of his fight being inspired by the Lee/Chuck Norris one in Way Of The Dragon, something that doesn’t really come across in the standard cut. Unfortunately the extra material is of poor quality, which I guess is why Eureka opted not to insert it into the film proper.
International Trailer [5 mins]
LIMITED EDITION BONUS DISC
I Am The White Tiger [2018, dir. Chiu Lee] [78 mins]
Houghton takes us through his life in this sometimes surprisingly emotional documentary, with help from several people who contributed greatly to it and much visiting of locations. In many ways his story follows a familiar trajectory. He moved to Hong Kong as a teenager to learn martial arts and live with a friend’s family, where the father told him off from rescuing a suicidal prostitute from drowning, telling him he could have drowned himself. His idol was Lau Kar-Leung, and he became his only student. He became a busy stuntman and fighting actor [though really more of a prop as he himself admits] but became depressed after suffering many injuries. This didn’t last forever though, and he turned his life around, keeping the two promises he made to his Sifu. Perhaps his crying on cue is a bit manipulative, but it’s hard not to be touched by his relationship with, final meetings with and great love for Leung, who’s actually [I didn’t know this] connected to Wong Fei Hung, who’s student Lam Saw Wing who’s son Lam Jam taught Leung. Houghton also tells some great stories, most notably one [which is also recreated] where he’s pursued and attacked by six men who tried to kill him. He fought back but barely survived and his doctor told him he should be dead. Told at a leisurely pace except for some montages, this is a most welcome extra feature.
A rather under-valued action comedy with loads of added value. Highly Recommended!