Enter the Fat Dragon (2020)

Posted in Reviews by - February 13, 2020
Enter the Fat Dragon (2020)

A Hong Kong action comedy which feels like a throwback to the crazy, cameo-filled Chinese New Year specials of old, pioneered by the likes of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan. This shares a title with a Sammo Hung Bruceploitation flick from 1978, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end; other than the fact that its star, Donnie Yen – a remarkably svelte 56 year old – spends most of the film wearing a fat suit. (More on that later.) Like Sammo’s original concept, this is more of a homage to classic Canto-comedies and the spirit of Bruce Lee, set in an alternate hyper-reality where no one acts like a real person and barely two minutes go by before another pratfall, or a fart in a car, or – in one particularly odd sequence – a completely random attack by an Alsatian. Let’s not forget that writer-director-star Wong Jing did make the film City Hunter, so you should have a rough idea of what to expect. Donnie Yen helps to ground the madness with his customary ease and charm, somehow managing to convey genuine emotion and conviction despite the added layers of prosthetics.

Riffing on Jackie Chan‘s classic Police Story, Yen plays a kick-ass supercop called Fallon Zhu (“as in Jimmy Fallon and Fallon Fox”, he says over the opening titles, in one of the film’s many quick-fire verbal gags which land thick and fast and make zero sense). Similarly, in shades of Chan’s action comedy franchise, Niki Chow plays a cipher for Maggie Cheung’s role as the useless girlfriend who essentially nags her way through the film, occasionally falling onto her face. It’s the day of his wedding photos, and Fallon spectacularly apprehends a hold-up at a bank, culminating in him crashing a bus into the Hong Kong Police Department. As a result, he’s dumped by his fiancé, fired from his job and breaks his leg, leading to an extended period of re-cooperation where he chomps through fast food while watching Bruce Lee movies. His friends in the force allow him to protect one of the bank robbers during his extradition to Tokyo, where Fallon uncovers a much larger drug smuggling operation involving the Yakuza (of course). Following the British baddies in Chasing the Dragon and the racist US Marines in Ip Man 4: The Finale, it seems almost inevitable that the Japanese would end up getting a raw deal in this one. Fallon befriends a Chinese immigrant family in Tokyo who find their restaurant business undermined by Japanese gangsters who appear to be aided and abetted by a completely corrupt police force. The Japanese are a perennial punching bag in most Chinese kung fu movies, and its interesting to see how old habits die hard.

And now, we come to the fat suit. Undoubtedly the most intriguing thing about the whole film is how remarkably agnostic it is about the general heft of its central character, despite seemingly trading on a sizeist agenda. Even though Donnie Yen performs the majority of the film with what appears to be a giant whoopee cushion strapped to his face, his character remains just as powerful, skilled and athletic in spite of the added flubber. His actions are not remotely jeopardised, or his appearance ridiculed because of his size; in fact, hardly any of the film’s slapstick derives from the fat suit at all. This either shows a remarkable amount of restraint from the director that brought us Holy Weapon, or maybe Wong Jing is finally becoming more empathetic in his later years. This is an extremely silly film, yes, but it’s not a cruel film; and even though it’s never particularly funny, it is still a lot of fun. Also, the action is absolutely fantastic. Long-time Donnie Yen fight collaborator Kenji Tanigaki (who first worked with Yen on the 1995 Fist of Fury TV series) makes his Chinese feature film debut as a director, lacing the movie with intensely physical sequences of Parkour, grappling, tricking, stunt falls and traditional weaponry – with battles involving poles, sai swords and nunchakus – which add fuel to the film’s frothy, colourful energy.

Enter the Fat Dragon is released in North America on 14 February via Well Go USA.

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