paper tigers

"The Paper Tigers" turns an entire genre on its head by asking what happened if Daniel LaRusso had to grow up? Many will look towards "Cobra Kai" to answer that question, but it really doesn't give an honest answer. Here, that very idea is turned onto its head with revenge having to bring old friends back together. Our story follows three washed-up Kung-fu prodigies (Ron Yuan, Alain Uy and Mykel Shannon Jenkins) who team up to find who murdered their sensei. While it may seem like a brutal action film, what we get here is a rekindling of friendship in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Chemistry is something that can be rather difficult to achieve between your titular leads. For Yuan, Uy and Jenkins, their comradery is moving, delightful, and absolutely instantaneous. Seeing these three begrudgingly come together is both charming and funny, even when we know where it's going. The jokes are so surprising and unexpected that it was hard for me not to laugh from start to finish. As our heroes are navigating through the web of kung-fu fanatics, there are always laughs to be had. Especially when they're going up against the "new-age" experts who easily wipe the floor with them at every turn. That being said, where the film suffers is in its rather predictable narrative from beginning to end.

Once these three men are united together, we know where the story is going to go. As they try to navigate who has killed their master, their trials and tribulations feel very written. The script, written by director Quoc Bao Tran, never leaves any room for the audience's imagination. It almost plays out as if Tran took the "old friends reunite" story template and simply plugged in these characters. With the story almost clocking in at two hours long, sometimes the comedy can't seem to compensate for the languid running time. Watching these guys navigate through this new-age character world is never consistently engaging. Having realized early on where we have to end up, it's hard not to admit having looked at my watch on several occasions. 

Thankfully it's easy to forgive some of those pitfalls when our three leads are so entertaining. You can easily tell that they did a lot of their own stunt and karate work, making the fights that much more engaging. The film places just enough of an emphasis on each of these actors being able to make their own fighting style that it remains regularly unexpected as to what move will be next. Watching them go through the motions of this story just isn't as engaging as it could have been. Because of our leads, it never gets into the territory of a complete and total bore. Especially in the film's latter half, when these guys start to get the upper hand, it's so entertaining to watch unfold no matter the outcome.

"The Paper Tigers" is an interesting story idea thanks to our three main characters and the performers behind them. Yuan, Uy and Jenkins' chemistry and friendship feel so real that it's quite easy to root for them. Watching them go down their path of "vengeance" is like the equivalent of the Three stooges, except this time they know karate. It's a rather difficult feat to accomplish, but this cast is more than up to the task. For a title that's going straight to streaming services, a story like this works quite well. It's really because of this cast that a rather simple story turns into a fun and surprising adventure. These guys are so interesting, and I'd love to see what the three of them could do next!

Rating: 7/10

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