Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon (Sau foo fei lung) first published by Movie Gazette, 26 Feb 2004
Sammo Hung is perhaps best known to Western viewers for his leading rôle in the American TV cop show Martial Law (1998-2000), but he has been a popular star in Hong Kong for decades, instantly recognisable for his sizeable girth, yet extraordinarily nimble on his feet and capable of delivering blows with formidable power. He also does an uncanny impersonation of Bruce Lee despite being over twice his size, as he proved to hilarious effect in Enter the Fat Dragon (1978), Shanghai Express (1986), and lastly in Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon (Sau foo fei lung), where Hung’s bowl haircut and white clothes, his mannered vocalisations and, most importantly, his kung fu moves, all point to the great Lee tubbily reincarnated on screen.
Loyal, fearless ‘Fatty’ Lung (Hung) and womanising, corruptible ‘Baldy’ Mak (Karl Maka) are buddy cops willing to beat suspects, blackmail informers, trash cars and fondle strange women’s bras in their pursuit of cocaine-trafficking Tak (Lung Ming-yan) and his ruthless brother Wing (Lau Kar-wing, the film’s director) – but when their chase sends them literally crashing into the middle of the Police Commissioner’s wedding ceremony, they find themselves suspended from duty and on vacation. Faster than you can say Running Scared, they consider resigning permanently and opening a karaoke bar in Singapore – but when the lives of their loved ones are threatened, they decide that it is time to take care of business with Mak and Wing.
Hong Kong comedy is definitely an acquired taste – its combination of knockabout slapstick and jokes about bodily functions (and body shapes and sizes) smacks, at least in translation, more of the playground than of the Algonquin table, and is best appreciated in small doses. This is the biggest problem with Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon – it is an action comedy with not quite enough of the former and far too much of the latter. Fatty and Baldy’s highjinks, especially during their protracted furlough in Singapore (complete with a gratuitous karaoke and disco-dancing set-piece), are never very funny, and make the film’s rhythm stretch and drag intolerably – while the obvious tensions between their characters are hardly milked at all for their comic, let alone dramatic, potential.
Still, the fight sequences, when they come, are what make this film really worth watching. Hung is an unusually versatile martial artist, and here you get to see his prowess with guns, sticks, nunchaku, knives, and, of course, bare fists and feet – all the while closely aping the idiosyncrasies of the Bruce Lee style. Best of all are the scenes where he uses two steel poles to take on Tak’s entire army of thugs at a building site. Lau Kar-wing is also no slouch as a fighter, and the scene in which his crimelord disarms Baldy of a knife is so astonishingly fast, you will be scrambling for the rewind button – even if you are equally inclined to fastforward through all the meandering comic interludes.
strap: Lau Kar-wing’s buddy cop actioner features great Bruce Lee-style fighting, but the ‘comedy’ is far more punishing.