“Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon” is a Hong Kong buddy cop film starring Sammo Hung and Karl Maka directed by Lau Kar Wing. This is the second last film Wing directed, with “Innocent Killer” (1994) being his last time in the director’s chair. The film is clearly inspired by “Lethal Weapon” and Sammo does his best Bruce Lee in more than one scene, with a lot of nose thumbing and Lee’s signature fight sounds. That being said, it does stand on its own as a funny fight flick with some great action.
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Hung and Maka play two Hong Kong cops who use kung fu to rough up suspects on a regular basis and chase young women just as often. After stopping a convenience store robbery, the two pals start working on a bigger case to nab a slippery crime boss by the name of Prince Tak. As you would expect, the pair get into a bunch of fights and silly mayhem along the way, including a short vacation where they meet two young ladies. We get to see Sammo dancing in a nightclub – which isn’t as funny as you would hope, and unfortunately the story wanders a bit and feels long since the vacation doesn’t seem like it belongs in the overall story. Eventually, the two pals get back on track and focus on Prince Tak and his band of thugs. Soon the thugs get the punching bag treatment and most of them are smashed through a number of innocent tables.
Director Wing was already a heavy weight in the kung fu film world, with over a dozen films on his directing resume and over a hundred acting credits before this was released. The film has a nice flow from scene to scene, but this may largely be due to the buddy cop formula which this film follows. The only spot where the film gets slow is when the pair are forced onto vacation by their stressed-out Sergeant. The fights are where the film really shines, with the climax fight in a warehouse full of explosive chemicals being the high point. During this scene, Sammo whips out a pair of nunchucks to break some bones and his talent with this weapon is great to watch. One small misstep that bugged me was that Sammo was called Fatty throughout the film but Maka who you assume is the Skinny Tiger, is called Baldy. A bit odd but excusable.
This film doesn’t bring a lot of original fighting or action to the table as far as action comedies go. The charm of this flick rests solely on Hung and Maka as they pull off the buddy routine with ease since they have starred in a number of films together already, two of my favorites being “Dirty Tiger Crazy Frog” (1978) and “Odd Couple” (1979). Hung and Maka are both naturally funny men and their Abbot and Costello style pairing works just as well as other fat and skinny guy comedy teams. Sammo is the funnier of the two, but Maka does have his own unique charm, he portrays a sly womanizer with ease. Any Sammo fan will tell you he can do kung fu with the best of the Hong Kong action stars, and Maka can throw a punch and kick too, but he doesn’t have the skill set of Sammo. The rest of the film is rounded out with actors who don’t have the same star power as Sammo – which is too bad, since it would have been nice to see a bad guy or female actor in this who was more well known in the HK action scene at the time.
The technical aspects of this film are fairly routine. The buddy cop film does have a loose set of rules to follow and cinematographer Gray Hoh Bo-Yiu doesn’t get too creative with the camera. Most of the camera work plays it safe, using medium shots and close ups with a few long shots to show one or two explosions or establishing shots. The music is what you would expect from a buddy cop film, goofy 80s synth-rock that blends into the background and you often don’t notice it.
“Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon” is a notable Sammo Hung film. If you are a Karl Maka fan like I am you will want to give this flick a watch since the two work so well together. The film has some great action sequences, particularly the last fight in the warehouse and the construction site fight where Sammo uses two pieces of pipe as batons. The rest of the action is fun with a lot of crunchy sound effects, hard hits and kicks that launch bad guys into the air. If you like buddy cop films or are a Sammo fan you will enjoy this.