Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon (1990)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-03-22
Summary: Rogue cops, dumb criminals, tranny assassins. Oh my!
In “Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon, Karl Maka and Sammo Hung are rogue cops who don’t follow orders, beat suspects and mistreat informants. We like them because they are funny and don’t take themselves too seriously. Things begin with a bang as three really stupid villains decide to rob a convenience store late at night even though Maka has identified himself as an armed CID officer deployed specifically to thwart late night robberies. The robbers not only fail to get any loot but are beaten up and mocked by both cops. Skinny even tells them to take their choppers when they leave since he will have enough to clean up as it is. When two of the robbers try to flee Skinny stops them by popping a bag of salty snacks—the criminals think the loud “bang” is a pistol shot and immediately drop to the floor.

This sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Skinny and Fatty are the toughest guys around, the ones who never get promoted because they are too busy chasing villains to bother with paperwork or the niceties of criminal procedure. They are constantly being set upon by thugs, generally outnumbered and always win but they don’t make many arrests so the criminals who they beat up are still free to prey upon the citizens of Hong Kong. The fights, though, are terrific, nothing other than what one would expect from Sammo in his prime. It is still a bit surprising to see a man of his girth move with such speed, precision and power and he uses much of his repertoire of martial arts moves. Even his Bruce Lee imitation/homage is welcome since this is Sammo doing Bruce, unlike Bruce Le, Bruce Li or any other poor sap tasked with the impossible, to actually replace the master.

Wu Fung has a bigger role than usual—at least gets plenty of screen time—but is still the frustrated middle level police administrator, stuck in the bureaucracy. He, Fatty and Skinny worked together at one time but he has gotten promoted to inspector, a double edged sword. He vacillates between manic joy, telling Skinny and Fatty that he wears the three pips of an inspector on his shoulders because he knows how to play the game and depressed anguish, complaining that he is stuck at the lowest executive rank because of the two of them and their antics. He is pulled between wanting to get rid of them, which he never quite does, and wanting to go back to the old days on the street with them. Additionally he is torn between his duty to instill discipline and respect in his underlings while holding those above him, who he refers to as the “Big White Chiefs” in contempt. It is a well written and well acted part and shows the artistry that many Hong Kong “character” actors can command.

Carrie Ng has a thankless role. She is the girlfriend of the main criminal, a cocaine importer who has contempt for the police since he can easily pay them off. She gets beaten up a lot—the first time by Skinny although she finishes that fight with the equalizer, a kick to the crotch and follows up with a civilian complaint of brutality against them, a complaint that leads to the first showdown between them and Wu Fung. She is later knocked around by her boyfriend who suspects her of leaking information to the police when all she is interested in is getting away from him. Carrie Ng looks great, with her mane of jet black hair and slash of bright red lipstick—there are good reasons why she makes many lists, including mine, of the sexiest actresses in Hong Kong film and most of them are on display here.

The assassins from Thailand give things a bit of an edge—they are transvestites but no less deadly in a dress and heels than if they were wearing more typical male garb. They also eschew traditional weapons—no guns or choppers for them. One uses a garrote while the other has a sharply pointed hook that she pulls from her belt buckle. They are not the first appearance of cross dressing men in “Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon”. One of the drug couriers is a man dressed as a woman who carries the cocaine in a bra. The guys get into lots of trouble since they know where and when the exchange of drugs for money is taking place but don’t have a description of the courier. Skinny decides to go after the first woman he sees with large breasts (she wearing a low cut top and a miniskirt), either assuming or hoping that he will or won’t find cocaine.

The way the ending is set up shows the huge difference between U.S. and Hong Kong cop movies, at least in 1990. Our heroes have been cashiered. Fatty’s father, who stumbled into the transvestite assassins, is recovering in the hospital down the hall from Skinny’s fiancé who they also attacked. They are trying to figure out if they should go to Singapore where a couple of beautiful and wealthy young ladies await them or stay in Hong Kong when Fatty decides that the only thing to do is to kill the criminal who has been eluding them. It is simple, direct and seems very normal when Sammo Hung says in the well dubbed version that we saw, that he can’t deal with the crime kingpin being alive while their loved ones linger near death. The only thing to do is to find him and kill him.

There is no false morality, no “this makes you no better than the bad guys” from his partner. Fatty and Skinny aren’t the kind of police officer who worries about anyone’s rights so killing their tormentor makes all the sense in the world. It doesn’t end quite that way, of course, but comes close.

“Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon” is a very well made movie with physical humor, pratfalls and campy shtick layered on to almost non-stop action. It is worth seeing.
Reviewer Score: 7