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It's not often that Jackie Chan's big brother of the Yuen Chinese Opera troupe, Sammo Hung, is praised for his contribution towards the evolution of Hong Kong action cinema. His claim to fame amongst the die-hard followers of these world-renowned flicks is that he has provided us with some of the most imaginative fight sequences ever realised on celluloid. Indeed, his ability to perfectly emulate any and all styles of martial arts is second to none, which he uses to generate some mind-blowing physical stunt work. However, his rotund form pretty much alienates him from the majoritive consciousness - in general, movie-goers would rather appreciate a pretty face than acknowledge one's particular talent of coordinating the moves that are mostly performed by stunt people anyway.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
You'd also be surprised to learn that Sammo has been responsible for choreographing such amazing physical routines in many Hollywood projects as well - one notable inclusion would be that of Jean Claude Van Damme's Knock Off. Whilst this has much to apologise for in the plot department, there's no arguing that the action sequences have a unique flavour that Hollywood itself would rather be content in keeping to the tried and true, straight and narrow variety of stunt work. Even though his talent is not always exhibited by himself onscreen, it is Sammo's effectiveness in displaying a believable sense of power and danger along with his warped sense of black humour that strikes out. This is what makes his style instantly recognisable to those who have already lived a healthy diet on his movies.

If you are interested in discovering some more of Sammo Hung's lost classics, I'd thoroughly recommend checking out his seminal epic Eastern Condors; this is the ultimate mix of gunplay and martial arts to which both of these genres have difficulty living together in the one movie at the best of times. His earlier period works include Encounters Of The Spooky Kind and The Magnificent Butcher that will have you scratching your heads whilst you enjoy the spectacular action. Somewhere along the line he was approached by CBS to produce a television series ultimately entitled Martial Law - finally he was on his way to Hollywood. With the first of the two series of episodes receiving a lack-lustre response by Western audiences, it was his dedicated fan-following that made it last as long as it did. Certain changes were made including the addition of now-defunct talk-show host Arsenio Hall as comic relief (oh please), but this did nothing to improve on the already average ratings and only further angered the core-base of followers who wanted nothing more than Sammo's unique recipe for action.

The upcoming trio of HKL DVD titles involving opera brothers Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung are the most eagerly awaited by fans of 80s Hong Kong cinema; namely Wheels On Meals, Heart Of Dragon and Dragons Forever; all of these were directed and/or choreographed by Sammo and Biao. As Jackie Chan would say, what Sammo Hung says goes because you should never argue with what Big Brother wants you to do. Each of these films are very unique from each other in terms of plot and fisticuffs, but no one can argue that this was the most respected era of Hong Kong cinema ever. Oh, and maybe another source of Sammo Fun would be Jackie Chan's Mr Nice Guy.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Film
In Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon (aka Nutty Kickbox Cops), Sammo Hung's strength in the action comedy department comes to the fore with the now common Cop Buddy genre given another Chinese Burn on the forearms. The plot again takes a back seat to the ridiculous antics of this crime-busting duo that gets the job done in every way possible, namely Fatty (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and his cohort Skinny (Karl Maka). Normally, this sort of movie would be relegated to the "been there done that" category, but in between the rather pedestrian storyline lies some remarkable comic relief and some more inventive fight routines. This raises the bar above most films that only do enough to fill in a ninety minute stretch of film, but somehow Sammo knows how to make the most of every frame when it comes to battling it out with the bad guys. There are also a few scenes involving some female-attired Thai-girl boys that, quite honestly, are the most convincing women played by men that I have ever seen in a movie.

This film is a rather light-hearted alternative to his darker outings, even though it involves gratuitous violence set against the backdrop of a comedy situation.  Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon almost fits the bill when you would like to experience a bit of inoffensive escapism that even the kids should enjoy, if you don't mind the use of nunchuckas and the occasional torturing of criminals for information. Rightly so, this movie attracts a very high UK-18. Sammo Hung also pays tribute to Bruce Lee (as he does on many of his other films), but the only indication of such is from the indecipherable comic books that he reads onscreen about the man. Indeed, if it wasn't for the trademark Kung Fu screams or just Bey Logan's numerous mentions of this fact, then you would be just in the dark about it as I was (joke, George).

The director plays the main bad guy and, sadly, there are no outtakes at the end of this feature.

Video
Considering that this was a "cheap knock 'em up as fast as possible" affair, the quality of this image is rather impressive. Either HKL have further improved upon their already spectacular digital re-mastering techniques or they had the good fortune to turn up a set of film-negatives that have been much less abused than other such celluloid offerings in the Hong Kong stable. I would probably go for the latter explanation since this movie in particular didn't do all that well in the theatres and subsequently might not have been afforded too many print runs for exhibition.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the colours on this video are very natural with some remarkable vibrancy coming out in the Singapore holiday scenes especially. Whilst they aren't nearly on the same level as, say, Jackie Chan's Miracles, the delineation of hues is a veritable treat for the eyes as they aren't nearly as bland as some of HKL's previous DVD releases of late (of which the source is always to blame). The focus is somewhat soft but definitely more defined than what we have come to expect of this vintage. There are surprisingly little or no film artefacts to speak of making this one of the clearest renderings I've seen in quite some time from HKL, so too a lack of compression artefacts or even appreciable grain in the image. The black levels are deep with the shadow detail in quite good stead for the most part, except for the occasional trouble spots in some of the semi-lit indoor scenes, but the night time alternatives are actually well rendered.

On the whole, there is little to complain about with this image, although it still shows its age.

Audio
There's not much to talk about really with either the Cantonese or English DD 5.1 soundtracks. Both offer a rather minimal auditory experience with all the sounds emanating a limited fidelity if not commonal distortion throughout. The best way to describe it is as "typically slapstick".

The dialogue is mostly decipherable but I personally could not comprehend some of the muffled mumblings from the actors wearing stockings or handkerchiefs over their faces, even though all of it was ADR'd later on in the recording studio. The music is actually quite conspicuous by its relative absence but what is there is only enough to set the intention of each scene. The sound effects are equally unimpressive and only do what is required to help sell the action onscreen, although they do spread across the three front speakers if only to indicate that it isn't actually mono. The use of surrounds and subwoofer are virtually unheard of, even though they still register movement on the amp's display.

Overall, this could have easily been given a DD 2.0 rendering and you would not have missed a thing.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Extras
By now everyone knows what the minimum standard is for any HKL DVD release, that being some retrospective interviews and maybe an audio commentary to boot. Whilst this could be seen as not much quantity wise, it is always a pleasure to hear the cast and crew reminisce about their experiences as well as getting a thorough trivia work-out from Hong Kong cinema know-it-all Bey Logan.

Did I say that there is an Audio Commentary by Bey Logan? It can't have escaped anyone's attention by now that this guy knows how to use every available millisecond in filling your head with historically accurate minutiae. In a peculiar move, he often mentions the incongruities of what happens within this farcical movie compared to what might occur if the situation were real, such as how the police would respond in certain situations etc. Again, his information is well-researched and will probably become a valuable resource in years to come when these twentieth century Hong Kong filmmakers are gone forever. Next is the standard UK Promo & Original Trailers, of which the latter runs at a marathon five minutes with spoilers galore. The Further Attractions holds more UK Promo's of other movies.

The two interviews on offer are The Weapons Master: An Interview With Lau Kar-Wing (24 mins) and Partner In Crime: An Interview With Ridley Tsui (18 mins). The director Lau Kar-Wing talks (in Cantonese) at length about how he started out in the film business, the bonds he has developed with his stars as well as a quite fascinating insight into the mixed blessings between the way movies were and are now generated. The co-choreographer Ridley Tsui talks (in English) about the common difficulties of being a stuntman in the early days, the now-obvious differences between Hollywood and Hong Kong action as well as how he had to double for the actors including big ol' Sammo himself. He also talks about the Thai-boys and his own style of stunt work that complements Sammo's.

And what appears to be a new take on an old theme is an actor synopsis in the form of text-pages; this one is entitled Sammo Hung: The Bruce Lee Connection. In the first few HKL DVD releases before, there were some video-text generalisations of a particular cast member. These took up valuable storage space and had a now-defunct American narrator who was almost over-enthusiastic and subsequently insincere in his voice-over. Thankfully we are able to skim-read through this one at our leisure with selectable pages instead of fiddling with the oft-troublesome fast-forward & rewind buttons, although it would have been a lot more helpful to be given a picture of the film(s) being referred to here.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon: Collector's Edition
Overall
There are many ways of describing how bad or good a movie is, with the old theory that a film can be so bad that it is actually good. Funnily enough, there are also many different interpretations to said theory in that there is Killer Tomatoes bad, Independence Day bad and Most Kevin Costner Films bad to name but a few. In the case of Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon, there is a wonderful charm to the characters and their comical action onscreen that they outshine the unlikely situations and sometimes gaping plot holes throughout. You can easily forgive the secondary plotline that threads everything together.

Fans will no doubt want to pick this DVD up in a jiffy, even the casual observers may find enough in this rather disjointed storyline to want to enjoy the frenetic Sammo Hung induced stunt work as well.


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