A Film a Week - Enter the Fat Dragon / Fei lung gwoh gong

previously published on Asian Movie Pulse
The eyes of the world were pointed at Donnie Yen after the end of the spectacular “Ip Man” saga. His choice of an action comedy as a follow-up might be seen as a bit of a surprise, but “Enter the Fat Dragon” blends the well-known elements, like the breath-taking, laws-of-physics-defying action, humor, references and a bit of covert social commentary into an efficient time-killer about the good cops, bad cops and even worse gangsters in Hong Kong and Tokyo. It premiered in the Chinese New Year slot earlier this year, but its theatrical run was impaired by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this type of film is equally suitable for video formats, where we also caught it.

The title is taken from the cult Sammo Hung’s 1978 action-comedy about an overweight Bruce Lee fan getting involved in a fight with a gang of thugs that threaten his family, but the appearance of the titular character and the presence of gangsters is the only thing the two films have in common. Donnie Yen plays a bit too eager Hong Kong cop Fallon Zhu who manages to botch the two of the most important things in his life over the course of one morning. While chasing the bank robbers in the first of the film’s spectacular set pieces, he completely forgets about the scheduled wedding photo-session with his actress fiancée Chloe (the beautiful Niki Chow) and he ends the chase by crashing the van into the police headquarters, almost killing the commissioner (a cameo by Anthony Chan).

Dumped and demoted to a desk job in the evidence control room, Zhu starts drowning his sorrow in the junk food available to him, gaining tens of kilos over the course of a few months. However, his luck seems to change when he is tasked by his colleague Shing (Louis Cheung) with a detail of escorting a Japanese prisoner back to Tokyo. A fairly simple mission goes sour when he escapes, revealing the network of corruption within the ranks of Tokyo police that also includes the Yakuza mobsters leaded by Chloe’s newest client Shimakura (Joey “Tee” Iwanga). Desperate to make things right, Zhu must turn to a former HK policeman Thor (Wong Jing, giving a likeable comedic performance in addition to his screenwriting and producing credits) and his love interest Charisma (Theresa Mo) for help. Also, Thor and Charisma’s hotpot restaurant is threatened by the mobsters, so it provides them with a bit of a motivation to help Zhu.

The script written by Wong, Chan Kin-Hung and Lui Koon-Nam is by no means a dramaturgical masterpiece, but it serves its purpose to propel the story filled with a large number of characters relegated to a quirk or two each from one action sequence to another. However, in the hands of veteran stuntman and an action choreographer Kenji Tanigaki, whose previous directing credits include a few of the “Shinobi” movies, it does not seem troubling at all. The fights themselves are impressively choreographed with a sense of gradation to them and brilliantly shot through the lens of the cinematographers Fung Yuen Man (his most recent credit was Dante Lam’s “Operation Red Sea”) and Takuro Ishizaka (who worked on John Woo’s “Manhunt” and Gordon Chan’s “God of War”). Lee Ka Wing’s rapid editing style also helps, keeping the rhythm and the pace on the high level throughout.

The actors also do a good job here, making the best of what is given to them. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary to swallow up Yen’s moves in the fat suit, since he certainly does not fight as a fat man, but he makes up for it with his rapid-fire verbal escapades matching his hard-hitting and quick-dodging fighting style. In Wong’s hands, Thor is a proper sidekick, not just a comic relief, while Iwanga’s Shimakura is menacing in a sophisticated way. Niki Chow channels the gentleness with a dash of snobbish attitude, and Theresa Mo is quite feisty as Charisma. Even the disposable characters like Naoto Takenaka’s inspector Endo and Jessica Jann’s translator Maggie get a moment to shine thanks to the actors’ good instincts.

With mandatory nods to Hung’s cult classic, Bruce Lee’s filmography and quotes of John Woo’s “Hard Boiled”, among other things, “Enter the Fat Dragon” is a fun watch not too dissimilar to Jackie Chan’s mid-career flicks. The ambiguity regarding the context leaves the possibility for the viewers to read their own into it.

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