Enter The Fat Dragon (Fei lung gwoh gong)
Hong Kong (2020) Dirs. Kenji Tanigaki & Wong Jing
With Jackie Chan supposedly swapping action for serious acting roles, which affects his comedic output since they rely heavily on slapstick fight scenes, who could replace him? A few years ago, the bookies’ favourite would have been Stephen Chow but he has distanced himself from martial arts flicks of late. So step forward….Donnie Yen?
Fallon Zhu (Yen) is an ultra fit, committed police officer known for doing everything by the book. Missing his wedding photo shoot due to getting caught up in a bank raid, his actress fiancée Chloe Song (Niki Chow) breaks up with him. Having been demoted at work to the evidence room, whilst his friend Huang (Louis Cheung) is promoted to commander, Fallon breaks his foot and being less mobile, puts on a lot of weight
To help Fallon get reinstated as an officer, Huang has him escort extradited Japanese crime witness Yuji (Hiro Hayama) to Tokyo police, but upon arrival Yuji is captured by Yakuza boss Shimakura (Joey Tee), with help from corrupt Japanese police. When Yuji is later found dead and Tokyo police do nothing, Fallon teams up with Hong Kong ex-pat Thor (Wong Jing) to find the answers.
Devoted martial arts fans will know Enter The Fat Dragon was a 1978 comic caper starring Sammo Hung, who was originally going to play Thor but it didn’t work out, so co-director Wong Jing took the role on instead. A very loose reimagining of Sammo’s film, certainly updated in every aspect, it can hardly be called a remake, though both do share a respectful nod to Bruce Lee, as the title implies.
Since Hong Kong cinema, and Asia film in general, is not known for toeing the PC line, the idea of an overweight cop might sound like an excuse to mine many targeted and potentially offensive and cruel fat shaming gags – so, let’s dispel that fear right away: there is only one brief moment where Fallon’s weight is used as an insult. What next – Frankie Boyle does children’s TV?
Naturally Yen dons a fat suit and chubby faced prosthetics and Fallon does notice the 100-pound weight gain, but with his character having a generally positive outlook on life, he accepts his portlier shape with little regret. The conceit is that despite packing on the pounds, Fallon can still move like a cat and kick butt like a demon, if a bit slower when having to run. Then again no-one else can complain when Thor is a hefty chap too, and he finds love with restaurateur Charisma (Teresa Mo) but really, it never becomes an issue.
Of course, this isn’t overlooked completely as it plays into the physical comedy of the fight sequences, seeing a pot belied Fallon flying about all over the place, despatching bad guys with lethal kicks and rapid fire punches just as he does at the start of the film when he was slimmer. The opener is a freewheeling spectacle in its own right that begins with a bank raid and culminates in the back of a stolen police van with an unconscious driver at the wheel.
Even when Fallon and Chloe bump into each other on the flight to Japan, where her terrible acting on TV has made her a star, she doesn’t feel repelled by Fallon’s bloated appearance, making a note of it but not dwelling on it. This will be a welcome change for many people who have endured fat shaming in their lives to be represented in a way where larger folk are accepted for how they are, which is driven home by a voice over from Fallon saying as much to end the film.
If there is a target for snide digs it is Japan, a bit cheeky given the second half of the film was shot there, half the cast are Japanese as is co-director Kenji Tanigaki. It’s not that the country itself is subject to the usual lazy, stereotyped mockery it receives at the hands of Hollywood, rather their police force are portrayed as corrupt and in league with the Yakuza, leaving it to honest Hong Kong cop Fallon to do their work for them.
Hypocrisy is abound since Hong Kong wouldn’t have less of a movie industry without their numerous thrillers involving corrupt police but I digress. Chloe is in Japan because she has been requested by Shimakura’s boss to front their fish company promotions, which is a cover for their drug smuggling operations. Unfortunately, Shimakura is the guy Fallon is after so he and Chloe are going to continue to cross paths whether she likes it or not.
A typically functional plot to facilitate the manic action, of which there is plenty, mostly owing a huge debt to Jackie Chan in their construction and use of furniture, props, and surrounding in the same acrobatic way Chan popularised. It might sound disingenuous to suggest Yen couldn’t pull off the comedy aspect of the fights were he not in the fat suit but it is something that is difficult to contest, having said that, there is a lot of comedy in the aforementioned opening punch up too.
Regardless of how well intended or mean spirited the film may or may not be depending on your perspective or level of cynicism, you have to hand it to Donnie Yen for giving himself over to the premise and committing to it. Whether this was a way of letting off steam after completing the Ip Man saga (which also digs at the Japanese) and having some fun, Yen carries himself like a cuddly chap comfortable in his skin which will only boost his heartthrob image at home.
Subtly is in short supply in Enter The Fat Dragon but with its positive message about body types and social acceptance, not to mention cracking fight scenes and comedy that is actually funny, such niggles can be overlooked. Let yourself go and pig out on this chunky slice of martial arts mayhem.