It is not, I have noted, that all Korean and (particularly) Chinese movies are great. It is, however, true that they’re capable of attaining greatness and that even when they’re simple, mindless fun, they aren’t in the American mold of hammer them to pieces with focus-group approved stimuli, patient zero for which I think I recently identified. They’re still allowed to have fun in the East. And pathologies are not enshrined and protected.
Which brings us to this film: Enter The Fat Dragon.
Martial Arts Master Donnie Yen (Ip Man 4, and 3, and 2, and 1, Rogue One) plays a supercop whose high-octane antics result in excessive property damage and embarrassment to his superiors and him be reassigned to the property room. Meanwhile, he’s pissed off his fiancee (native Angeleno Jessica Jann, Easy A) by saving a bunch of bank robbery hostages on the day they were to have their wedding pictures taken. (Note, Jann is 30 and Yenn is 56, though the age disparity is curiously not as obvious as it would be with Caucasian stars.)
So, Yenn, down on his luck and stuck in the property room for eight hours a day, depressed over his break-up, well, naturally he starts snacking. And snacking. And gets fatter and fatter and…well, actually not that fat by American standards, but fatter than one expects a kung-fu-master/action-hero to be. He gets sent on a busy-work run to Japan with a villain where, sure enough, he runs into his ex- and discovers the only good people in Japan are displaced Chinese.
I’m not kidding about that: Every Japanese person in this movie is criminal or complicit in crime. There’s even a scene where the police turn a blatant blind eye to Yakusa shenanigans because they’re Japanese, what do you expect? The Boy and I were amused because our view of Japan is that it is a very mild-mannered place with a very low crime rate. But I guess the Chinese aren’t over the Rape of Nanking yet. (And the Koreans clearly aren’t over the attempted genocide, as we saw in The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos.)
Whatever the veracity of it, our hero is on our own as his busywork mission becomes complicated by his ward being murdered, and a criminal conspiracy that reaches…well, not to the top, but high enough.
It’s fun. It’s funny. It has a lot of kick-ass action scenes, and Donnie and Jessica have a kind of complicated reconciliation/breakup/reconciliation/rescue that gets you in the feels despite the overall absurdity of many of the situations. Again, there are tonal shifts here that don’t work in American movies, typically. It starts out as a straight-up action/comedy film, then goes into pretty much straight comedy, then there’s an actual murder with dead body, then there’s more action/comedy, then there’s a pretty strong romance theme, and it kind of plays out action/comedy/romance/mystery.
It’s amazing what you can do when you respect your characters. (Well, except the Japanese characters.)
The Boy and I enjoyed it. We were surprised (and maybe a little disappointed) that there really weren’t a lot of fat jokes. I think we were expecting something broader—though Lord knows there are sharp limitations on “Fat Man Fall Down” humor, and it perhaps would have seemed a little unkind, given that I’m pretty sure Donnie Yen rolls around with a 4% body fat most of the time.
But, honestly, they make him up to be fat and virtually nothing else changes. He does all his signature moves perfectly, just with a gut. Yeah, alright. It’s kind of a low-key visual gag that doesn’t wear out its welcome and makes his character strangely sympathetic. I think, on an aesthetic level, it speaks to all of us who were in good shape once, and never changed on the inside. Heh.
Anyway: Fun action/comedy flick worth your attention. Check it out.