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Thanks to my return to reviewing duties my collection of Hong Kong Legends titles has grown in size steadily in recent months, with films like A Chinese Ghost Story and now Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon sitting proudly next to older releases such as Mr. Vampire, Fist of Fury and Zu Warriors. This disc marks the addition of the first movie starring Sammo Hung to my collection, and although I’ve seen him play bit-parts in various other films I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the ‘Fatty Dragon’.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Film
As is often the case with Hong Kong cinema, at least in my limited experience, Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon is at once both straightforward and complicated. While the premise of the story is childishly simplistic, the execution often makes it very hard to decipher exactly who is who, and what the hell they are supposed to be doing!

Sammo Hung and Karl Maka star as ‘Fatty’ Lung and ‘Baldy’ Mak, two larger than life Hong Kong police officers who are trying to take down a powerful drug lord. Unfortunately, after a mix-up with a Thai lady-boy, their investigation leads to the accidental molestation of a woman, followed shortly by the destruction of the Deputy Commissioner’s wedding reception (whilst they are trying to apprehend a suspect)! The guys are ordered to take a leave of absence until the whole sorry affair blows over, and it’s while holidaying in Singapore that they decide to quit the force and open up a karaoke bar with the assistance of two local girls. However, when Baldy’s girlfriend is threatened by the mobsters our heroes vow to take down the drug lord once and for all. This somewhat confusing series of events sets up an explosive climax in which our hapless cops face off against the drug lord and his personal army!

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon gets of to an eventful start when Karl Maka takes on a gang of hooligans in a convenience store, but it is not until the ‘big man’ gets to rip loose that the real fun begins. Sammo Hung’s impersonation of Bruce Lee is spot on, and you could almost believe that it is the great man up there on screen (after consuming a fairly large number of pies that is). The speed at which Sammo is able to move given his bulk is, quite simply, astounding, and he radiates an aura of power when he fights that is seldom seen. I can honestly say that I’ll be checking out more Sammo Hung films based on the strength of his performance here. Some of the fight choreography is also mind-blowing, especially when weapons are introduced, and probably the best example of this is the final showdown between Sammo and the villain of the piece. It is a breathless affair in which knives are used to great effect, and even manages to eclipse an earlier stick fight in terms of sheer kinetic energy. The action also flows more freely than most western martial arts films I’ve seen, with a greater use of wide shots enabling you too see everything that’s going on.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
It’s not all good though, as structurally the film has a number of flaws. This is probably best illustrated around fifty minutes into the proceedings, when our heroes take decide to take a break from crime-fighting and head to Singapore. The entire sequence is completely out of step with the rest of the picture, and ultimately has very little to do with furthering the plot—in fact, if anything, it hinders it. The comedy is also a tad hit-and-miss, primarily because Karl Maka’s relentless slapstick wears a little thin after a while. However, there are some genuinely funny moments, such as Sammo’s hilarious Bruce Lee impressions and a scene in which the guys frisk and Alsatian!

Video
As is customary for Hong Kong Legends, we treated to a beautifully restored anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. The print is surprisingly clean for a Hong Kong film of this age, with unusually naturalistic colour rendition and excellent contrast. Blacks, in particular, are very strong, and while it’s true that the image is a little softer than the average modern-day release, the level of detail remains good throughout. The icing on the cake comes in the form of film and digital artefacts, which are conspicuous only by their absence. All in all this is yet another fine effort from the people at Hong Kong Legends.

Audio
As is also the norm for their Collector’s Editions, Hong Kong Legends present Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. A choice between the original Cantonese (with re-mastered subtitles) or an English dubs is on offer, but as any self-respecting reviewer will tell you there’s really no contest when it comes to choosing which to listen to. As usual the quality of the soundtrack isn’t up to that of most Hollywood films. To me the soundtracks on the majority of Hong Kong flicks sound almost like someone’s idea of ‘comedy’ ADR, and Skinny Tiger is no exception.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Putting aside this issue with the soundtrack, things still aren’t what they could have been. For a 5.1 mix things are terribly flat, with what little use of the discrete surrounds there is being used only for mundane effects. However, when considering the humble origins of the source material, perhaps I was expecting too much… Things aren’t all doom and gloom, as every exaggerated punch and kick comes through loud and clear, as does the dialogue. Truth be told this is a perfectly serviceable, if uninspiring soundtrack. For those of you who really detest subtitles the disc also contains an English dub. Frankly, the dub is fairly poor—indeed, even the quality of the audio suffers compared to the Cantonese track—and I can’t understand why anyone would prefer this over the original language.

Extras
One again we have a modest collection of supplemental material, the best of which is another excellent and informative commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert, Bey Logan. This guy is without a doubt the best in the business when it comes to this sort of thing, and he has greatly enhanced my appreciation of every film that he has commented on. Logan barely pauses for breath as he delivers a constant stream of interesting facts about the film, its cast, and its crew.

The Weapons Master is a twenty-five minute interview with Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon actor and director Lau Kar-wing. Conducted in Chinese with English subtitles, the interview goes into great depth on such topics as his early career, his relationship with Sammo Hung, Karl Maka and other action stars, and the difference between shooting films now as opposed to the early days. The whole thing is interspersed with clips from various Hong Kong action films, and all in all I found this fairly interesting.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Partner in Crime is a ten minute interview with Ridley Tsui, who acted as the film’s co-action director. Unlike Lau Kar-wing this interview is conducted in English, but thankfully Tsui’s accent is easy enough to understand. Some of the topics discussed include his humble beginnings as a stuntman, the differences between Hollywood and Hong Kong action, and how he doubled for various people in Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon, (including Sammo Hung and the Thai lady-boys).

Sammo Hung: The Bruce Lee Connection is a text-based feature that delivers a little background information on the relationship between the two martial artists. It would have been nice to hear from Sammo himself, but alas this was not to be. This feature is fien for what it is, but DVD is a visual medium and I don’t find static imagery particularly enthralling, be it text or still galleries.

A Trailer Gallery follows, and contains both the UK promotional trailer and the theatrical trailer. One thing I’ve noticed from HKL’s releases is that trailers for Hong Kong films seem to go on almost as long as the films themselves. In fact, one might argue that there’s almost no need to see the entire movie after sitting through this marathon preview! Finally the disc contains a Further Attractions menu, which contains information about various Hong Kong Legends and Premiere Asia release. Along with detailed descriptions of the disc’s features, most entries include a trailer.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Overall
While it’s true that I tend to prefer more recent Asian cinema like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Warrior to the older films, I have to admit to be somewhat taken with Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon. Sure it has its flaws, but the film blends remarkable martial arts action with some truly wonderful comedic moments, the end result of which is a very enjoyable action-comedy. Hong Kong Legends has delivered yet another solid release, with a particularly nice transfer and serviceable, if unspectacular audio. As with previous HKL releases the supplemental material isn’t as impressive as it could have been, but the Logan commentary single-handedly rescues things in this department. Of course, fans of the film should run out and buy a copy as soon as it’s available, but even those relatively new to Hong Kong cinema should enjoy Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon—let’s face it, any film in which an overweight Bruce Lee impersonator goes toe to toe with a couple of Thai lady-boys has got to be worth watching at least once!


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