In the midst of a world where cinema was still trying to make a comeback into theaters, an independent feature that garnered critical praise was released in the summer of 2021; The Paper Tigers is about three martial artists who are considered past their prime. However, after their teacher is murdered, they must avenge the loss of the sensei while still juggling their everyday lives. The Paper Tigers is a mix of Cobra Kai and most buddy-action movies you’ve ever seen. Granted, the feature doesn’t play out like one; however, it’s the core dynamic between the cast that remains of one of the funny gems like Beverly Hills Cop or Rush Hour.
The Paper Tigers is a simple story. It’s mainly about Alain Uy’s Danny, as we’re treated to a cool throwback video showcasing just how much of a great fighter he was during his younger years. The Paper Tigers nicely showcases Hing, Jim, and Danny during this time, highlighting their distinct personalities in addition to showcasing their strength in the sport of martial arts. It helps balance the juxtaposition of the three men whose lives have drastically changed once their full-grown adults. Jim is still deep into the fighting/martial arts world. However, Danny is still trying to gain control of his life with his less than stellar job and the duties of co-parenting with his ex-wife. The Paper Tigers isn’t meant to be some thought-provoking piece that will leave you with a new and important perspective nor it isn’t some martial arts comedy that’s going to top The Raid or John Wick when it comes to action. That’s okay because sometimes a movie can just be fun without having some type of deep meaning.
The Paper Tigers is cheesy, but not in the same vein as Cobra Kai. The Netflix series spends way too much time on teenage drama, whereas the core focus on The Paper Tigers is about the gang coming to terms with their place in the world and finally a sense of self as they look for the person responsible for the murder of their sensei. The story is breezy fun, nicely balancing some fight scenes and humor, but never forgetting about heart along the way. The movie heavily relies on the dynamic of Jim, Hing, and Danny, and the three actors are perfect with one another. Whether it’s the young versions of themselves, or even the older beings, the three Paper Tigers genuinely feel like brothers due to the amazing chemistry between Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins. All three complement each other’s personalities perfectly and the story manages to make all three men shine throughout the 1-hour and 50-minute runtime. The mystery of who killed their sensei isn’t too deep as it’s quickly revealed who’s the culprit behind the senseless murder, but The Paper Tigers isn’t billing itself as mystery/thriller so that’s fine.
Despite the grim reasoning that Jim, Hing, Danny reunite, the tone of the overall film never feels awkward or misguided. The Paper Tigers knows what is and the confident direction from Quoc Bao Tran keeps the narrative cohesive and tight. The Paper Tigers isn’t exactly a popcorn film, but it’s definitely one that a group of friends and family can enjoy together. The supporting characters are also pretty fun as well. While it’s disappointing that the bad guy isn’t given much time to truly develop, the characters that The Paper Tigers deal with leading up to the surprise reveal highlight the fun world of this film. Everyone stands out in a unique manner as Quoc Bao Tran made sure to give distinct personalities to nearly everyone who isn’t the main character. If there’s one nitpick and it’s the mother/ex-wife of Danny. We understand the nature of their relationship, but the issue is that the root of their problems isn’t translated well here.
Danny is clearly not father of the year; however, the reasoning appears to be due to the fact that he’s consumed by work. It would’ve been nice to understand why this is such a major issue for the ex-wife. Obviously, his work has affected the relationship with his son, but it feels that she’s being too harsh on a man that’s clearly trying to be a decent father. Other than that, Paper Tigers is a nice little gem that should be watched. If you’re in love with Cobra Kai then The Paper Tigers is the perfect film as it nicely blends action, humor, and heart that makes the feature an enjoyable breeze to watch.