Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon (Sau foo fei lung)

Hong Kong (1990) Dir. Lau Kar-wing

Far be it for me to impugn the police force here in the UK but they are currently in a bit of a sad state following the last Commissioner resigning because of her poor and corrupt leadership. However, they are nowhere near as incompetent as the two officers in this comedy are, and they’re not even played by Laurel and Hardy!

Police officers Fatty Dragon (Sammo Hung) and Baldy Mak Sui-fu (Karl Maka) are on the outs with their boss for the chaos caused when trying to catch drug smuggler Prince Tak (Lung Ming-yan) who works for gang boss Wing (Lau Kar-wing). After literally crashing the wedding of the Deputy Commissioner, Dragon and Baldy are told by their boss to take a holiday until things blow over.

They head to Singapore where they meet rich girls May and June, who offer to finance the opening a karaoke bar for them, but Fatty is uncomfortable living off the girls. They return to Hong Kong to resign, only to discover Tak has been released on bail and is continuing his reign of terror by taking revenge on Fatty and Baldy by targeting their loved ones, forcing their hand to bring Tak in once and for all.

Sammo Hung is often seen as secondary to the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li to western film fans but he is probably more influential and important to the martial arts and indeed Hong Kong film industries than both men. This is not a slight on Jet or Jackie, but Sammo has done it all behind the camera – writer, actor, producer, director, fight choreographer – as well as in front of it, for both himself and many others including his old mate JC.

Like Jackie and Jet, he has an incredible body of work for us to enjoy and be in awe of that spans almost six decades, with many seminal titles as Hung led the charge to drag martial arts cinema into the 1980s. Then, there are some films which don’t quite hit the mark or haven’t stood the test of time outside of the electric fight sequences – I present to you exhibit A: Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon.

Despite being made in 1990, there is still a heavy hangover from the gaudy days of the 80s and the hit and miss frippery of Hong Kong comedies from this era to be found in this messy buddy cop flick. On the humour front, this is sadly evident with buttock-clenching sexist material and the usual arcane nuances of the regional gags which don’t travel so well across the seas.

It would have helped if the story was stronger and the jokes were congruent but writer Chang Kwok-tse either gave up halfway or felt Sammo could work his magic and fill in the blanks with his fight scenes. This proves a handicap for the audience unless they are happy to sit through the morass of tawdry humour, as the story slowly filters through the bouts of bone-crunching kung fu mayhem, and not taking full effect until almost 3/4s of the way through.

After opening with a pure comedy scene in which Baldy and Fatty prevent a convenience store from being robbed by a gang associated with Tak, their characters are unsubtly delineated through a series of painful skits showing Baldy as the corruptible womaniser and Fatty as the shy, principled one. Their boss is an old friend and usually covers for their misdemeanours but the pair are about to test the patience of his loyalty.

By way of getting to Tak, they follow his girlfriend Lai (Carrie Ng) who is also his proxy liaison with his smuggler friends. In this instance, one of them dresses as woman so they can make the delivery in a women’s changing room (why not just send a woman?), and I’m sure I don’t need to go any further as you are probably way ahead of me. In short, Fatty and Baldy are up on a sexual harassment charge but this is enough to get Tak rattled.

You want more? Well, in the second half, when our heroes are back in Hong Kong Tak sends two transvestite assassins (played by women) to kill Lai, now a witness for the police, and Fatty’s father (Ni Kuang), whilst two Caucasian killers are sent to bump off Baldy’s long suffering girlfriend Tall Sister (Wanda Yung). Amazingly we are spared any truly off colour jokes about the cross dressing psychos, instead they play up to the optic of Fatty beating up two “women” in public.

Quite possibly, it won’t matter that the story is as flimsy as a Tory pledge and has more holes than a colander for most, they’re here for the action and will find themselves very well catered for. Sammo is in full Bruce Lee tribute act mode, going so far as to lift spots from the fights from Enter The Dragon whilst aping Lee’s mannerisms and trademark whelps. If anyone else did it, I’m sure it would be blasphemy but Sammo worked with Bruce so affectionate tribute it is.

Karl Maka gets involved in a lot of the fighting as does director Lau Kar-wing for the finale, but Sammo handles the lion’s share and boy, is he is on form. Whether mimicking Bruce or borrowing slapstick ideas from his old pal JC, facing multiple fighters or going one-on-one, using weapons or just fists and kicks, Sammo reminds us how incredibly agile he was for such a hefty guy and fast too. In fact, this might be one of the strongest cinematic examples of Sammo’s immense talents as a martial artist.

Rating Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon as a comedy and/or pure entertainment is problematic as so much of it has aged badly or is too puerile and the story is wasted as result, but for martial arts fans, this is an absolute corker, chock full of stunning fights courtesy of Sammo Hung at his peak.