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Review: “Enter The Fat Dragon” Succeeds With Charm As Donnie Yen’s Foray Into Action-Comedy

Renowned Hong Kong kung-fu actor Donnie Yen’s acting career pivots to new frontiers.

By , 11 Feb 20 21:32 UTC
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Courtesy of Well Go USA.

After bidding farewell to the Ip Man franchise that catapulted him to international success, Donnie Yen ditches his wooden dummy and stoic demeanor for a fat suit and comedic chops in Enter the Fat Dragon, a remake of the 1978 film of the same name. The resulting action comedy succeeds with much charm, blending slapstick and screwball humor, romance, and of course, martial arts, into an hour and a half of delightful entertainment. 

From Ip Man to a Bumbling Policeman 

In contrast to many of his roles as a serious and deadly martial artist with wildly sought after abilities (Wu Xia, Kung Fu Killer, Ip Man, to name a few), Enter the Fat Dragon is a departure for Yen, who is looking to branch out as an actor after Ip Man.

Yen plays a police man named Fallon Zhu with the best of intentions, but not always the best execution. On the same day that he is supposed to meet his fiancée Chloe for their wedding photos, Zhu finds himself at the scene of a bank robbery. A sequence of heroic events flashes through his mind as he improvises a plan of action — a plan that quickly falls apart after he miscalculates a child’s willingness to part with his toy in order for Zhu to use it as a weapon. Zhu, ever driven by a relentless sense of justice, gives chase, leading to an exciting action sequence that ends with Zhu nearly running over his Chief Superintendent with a van. Subsequently, Zhu’s superintendent demoted him, and his fiancée calls off the engagement. In the span of 6 months, Zhu gains 100 lbs by eating his feelings. 

When a chance to save his career comes up, Zhu jumps at the opportunity and is sent to Japan to help extradite a fugitive. The plan, of course, goes awry, and Zhu is forced to team up with an ex-Hong Kong cop Thor (also fat; played by Wong Jing), whom he soon learns is going through relationship problems of his own. Together, the two must fight the Japanese yakuza while winning the hearts of their respective unrequited loves. 

Courtesy of Well Go USA.

A Humorous and Parodied Portrait of Japan

Japan is often fetishized in the West, where it is depicted as an enigmatic and technologically impressive culture. It is refreshing therefore to see the many lighthearted riffs on Japanese culture in Enter the Fat Dragon. This comedic effect is unique in light of historically tenuous Sino-Japanese relations, and the fact that the film is a collaboration between Chinese and Japanese filmmakers (it is co-directed by Wong Jing and Kenji Tanigaki).

In a scene at a police station in Japan, Zhu is repeatedly shushed by an entire room of Japanese employees dressed in identical black suits, index finger pressed against their lips, hissing “SHHHHHH!”, whenever he raised his voice even slightly. In a separate scene, Zhu reacts skeptically to a translator’s terse interpretation, to which the translator responds, “Japanese are actually very long-winded.” The film also makes references to pop culture, such as when an antagonist accuses Zhu of being a “monster. A pocket monster.” These jokes provide a refreshingly humorous depiction of Japan from a Chinese-cinema point of view, all the while remaining lighthearted and inoffensive. 

Female Supporting Leads Delight 

The female protagonists in the film (played by Niki Chow and Teresa Mo) act as humorous foils to their male counterparts and manage to pack punches of their own. In a post #MeToo era where one dimensional female characters are quickly falling out of favor with audiences, Chow and Mo’s portrayal of stubborn, headstrong, and often foul-mouthed women provide added dimension to the action comedy. The ways in which their personalities clash with the respective fat men who pine after them — Zhu and Thor — add an oddly charming affect to the film’s screwball humor. 

Courtesy of Well Go USA.

An Homage to Bruce Lee, and now Donnie Yen 

The 1978 film of the same name stars Sammo Hung in a parody of Bruce Lee’s 1972 Way of the Dragon. In it, Hung plays a pig farmer and devoted Bruce fan who hopes to follow in his idol’s footsteps, facing much ridicule along the way. 

Though the 2020 version starring Donnie Yen bares little in resemblance, both films pay homage to the art and tradition of the Hong Kong action movie genre. Yen continues to honor Bruce Lee in his remake, and in one scene eats his feelings to Way of the Dragon after his professional and personal life go down the toilet. Most notably, however, Yen pays homage to his own films, including actual footage from Flash Point (2007), and reenacting an iconic scene from Sha Po Lang (2005). At one point during an argument with his fiancée, Chloe delivers an angry rebuttal, “Let me give you 10 expressions!” — an allusion to the now iconic scene from Ip Man that pit Donnie Yen against 10 karate black belts.  

Though comparing himself to the legacy of Bruce Lee may not have been Yen’s intention, the association is not undeserved, either. For someone who has contributed over 70 films in his career and pushed the envelope in the depiction of both contemporary and traditional combat styles in cinema, Donnie Yen is well in a league of his own. Enter the Fat Dragon shows Yen willing to take on a new challenge as an actor, and his foray into the action-comedy genre does not disappoint. 

Enter the Fat Dragon opens February 14th in theaters across North America. For a list of theaters and showtimes, visit Well Go USA’s website.

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Enter the Fat Dragon (Chinese: 肥龍過江)—Hong Kong, China. Dialog in Cantonese Chinese and Japanese. Directed by Kenji Tanigaki. First released January 23, 2020. Running time 1hr 37min. Starring Donnie Yen, Teresa Mo, Niki Chow, Wong Jing.

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