As a director, Sammo Hung often brought out the harder edge in his collaborators, his choreography was often pretty brutal even when what surrounded it was comedic. As an actor though, he definitely more readily embraced the inherently comedic qualities that his rotund body and aptitude for physical comedy afforded him. That’s very much the case in this 1990 action comedy from director and co-star Lau Kar-Wing.

Hung plays Fatty Dragon to Karl Maka’s Skinny Tiger, both of them plain clothes cops who are constantly in trouble with their bosses for skirting the rules. The plot here is convoluted, but involves the two investigating a drug ring headed by Lau Kar-Wing, many cross dressing and trans (which is NOT how the film refers to them) bad guys, Dragon and Tiger tricking a gangster’s moll (Naked Killer’s Carrie Ng) into witness protection, the two of them getting thrown off the case (or the force? Twice?) AND quitting, but still staying on the case. This is all remembered or forgotten more or less at random between often politically incorrect comedy sequences, perfunctory relationship subplots and an entirely pointless mid-film trip to Singapore. Let’s just say that Lau Kar-Wing’s primary gifts are not as a storyteller.

This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t work, at least in parts. Much of the comedy is an acquired taste, but some of it works well. The opening sequence, which introduces Maka undercover at a convenience store that gets robbed, is a good example. He gets some solid comedic action, and there’s some fun interplay as he convinces the robbers to trade information for their freedom, before they run into Sammo outside “I’m in charge in here, he’s in charge outside” says Maka. Another nice moment concerns Hung’s crush on a younger cop, when he awkwardly goes to ask her out she gives him a peck on the cheek “I don’t know what it means, but this is an invitation to her wedding” he says, holding up a card, when he walks back over to Maka.

Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon 2Badly dated, and often unsavoury, are moments leering over female characters (even, in an earlier scene, that younger cop) and talk about groping women to make sure they aren’t the cross dressing suspect Dragon and Tiger are after. It’s a plot point you’d never get away with now, and it sits deeply uncomfortably seen today. All the film’s women are poorly served, notably Carrie Ng, who has quite a prominent role in the first half and, beyond being drop dead gorgeous as ever, seems to be having some fun, particularly with the action she does get to do. Sadly, she’s all but completely forgotten for long stretches after the first 45 minutes.

The film falls off quite drastically around the 45 minute mark and one of the times that Dragon and Tiger are taken off the case, at which point they… go to Singapore, meet a couple of girls and plan to open a karaoke bar. Because… nope, can’t help you. It’s a baffling sequence, not only does it appear to have been spliced in from a completely different film, it’s not even entertaining in its own right. I genuinely wonder whether Sammo or Maka had a trip booked and it became a busman’s holiday.

Things finally get back on track with the action heavy last twenty-five minutes. Throughout, the action is the highlight. Hung is perhaps not as hard hitting as usual, but in both his moves and his vocalisations he is half paying tribute to and half parodying Bruce Lee. Unlike many of the people who have attempted to ape Lee over the years, Hung actually fought him on screen in Enter the Dragon, he lost of course, but says an offscreen fight was a draw, a story that is probably best taken with a hefty pinch of salt. Maka is obviously a less accomplished fighter, but holds his own with style in many of the early sequences. Once he can’t fight with the same impact as Sammo, that becomes part of his character and the comedy (Maka:“I’ll take these two”. Hung: “There’s a lot more than two”). The standout action beats come towards the beginning and end of the film (the construction site and the warehouse), but there are just enough sprinkled in across the rest of the film to keep you engaged during the slow parts.

Lau Kar-Wing’s action editing is perhaps not as perfectly pitched as Hung’s and Jackie Chan’s was in this period, but the fluency of the movements and the cuts leaves anything Hollywood has put out in the last two decades in the dust. If this is your thing, it’s just enough to allow you to forgive the film’s other mis-steps and look past its dated elements.

The Disc

This is becoming a very familiar story with Eureka’s catalogue martial arts releases: The 2K restoration is miles beyond any release we’ve seen before. Is it THE disc to show off your system? Clearly not, but given the scarcity and condition that prints of these films are usually in, if you’ve ever had the chance to see it projected, it’s doubtful it looked close to this good.

Audio tracks are provided in Cantonese and English mono. Both, as ever, are dubbed, but for me the native language track is always the choice. The newly translated subtitles still have some translations that read a little awkwardly, but are almost certainly the most faithful version to date.

The Extras

Unfortunately, I can’t review the most substantial extra here. The first 3000 copies include a second disc with a feature documentary, I Am The White Tiger, about English martial arts actor Mark Houghton and his career in Hong Kong and beyond. Sadly, my check disc froze about 10 minutes in. It looks informative and fun, if technically basic. Also unavailable was the limited edition booklet with an essay by James Oliver.

As ever, there are two commentaries, from Eureka’s usual teams of Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels and Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. I’ve only been able to sample them, but you can expect the usual camaraderie between the speakers with a mix of screen specific and digressive chat, and some overlap between the tracks.

The first video extra I jumped to was the extended fight finale. The extensions are relatively light, but do add to the final showdown, especially between Hung and Lau Kar-Wing. Unfortunately this material wasn’t able to be restored, so what we have is from a Taiwanese VHS.

There are also archival interviews with Lau Kar Wing (25 mins) and action director Ridley Tsui (19 mins), which look to have been taken from the old Hong Kong Legends release. Lau Ka-Wing’s is subtitled, while Tsui speaks fluent English. Typically for HKL’s interviews, they range wider than the specific film and are extremely interesting background pieces.

The disc is rounded out with a new audio interview with Mark Houghton about his fight with Sammo, an informative six minutes that play over excerpts of the warehouse fight.

Film: ★★★
Disc: ★★★★

Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon 2