Enter the Fat Dragon (Hong Kong, 2020)
In the vein of Love on a Diet (2001) and Running on Karma (2003), Donnie Yen’s latest vehicle Enter the Fat Dragon is yet another example of a Hong Kong star donning a transformative body suit in the name of entertainment. Yen makes full use of make-up and costuming to become a much larger version of himself, and in doing so, hopes to generate a few laughs and giggles. He’s certainly able to do that as Enter the Fat Dragon proves to be a fun, if somewhat generic, action-comedy.
Yen plays workaholic police officer Fallon Zhu, whose relationship with his girlfriend Chloe (Nikki Chow) of more than 10 years is put to the test when his line of duty foils an engagement photography session. In a reasonable move, she ends the relationship and Zhu ends up spiraling into a long wave of unhealthy lifestyle choices. This results in the once physically fit policeman becoming an overweight version of his former self, although still retaining his fighting capabilities. After being put on a new case, he finds himself chaperoning a convict to Japan and is thrown into the deep underbelly of the local Yakuza culture. Supporting characters are played by director Wong Jing himself (who also serves as one of the film’s writers), Teresa Mo and Louis Cheung.
Having announced that Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019) would his last ‘kung fu’ movie, one does wonder if a film like this signals the new direction Yen is hoping to steer his career towards. To be fair, this is by no means the first time he’s taken on a more comedic character (my own favorite is his turn in All’s Well, Ends Well 2011). Still, it’s definitely a departure from the type of roles we’re used to seeing him play. That is, a character with solid values and super fighting abilities.
It would be a stretch to say that he’s trying to replicate what Jackie Chan does with kung fu infused slapstick humor, and I don’t think anyone out there is making that argument. If anything, this is a sign that Yen does indeed have the range to diversify into other genres, with or without his action choreography. I felt like he made a huge leap as an actor in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), but one could argue that the character of Chirrut Imwe was simply an extension of the ‘usual’ Donnie Yen character, albeit with a bit more depth.
Outside of Yen’s performance, the supporting characters are all fairly decent in their assigned roles. I’ve said this before, but Wong Jing can be pretty sharp as a comedic actor, especially when the character he’s written for himself isn’t overly obnoxious or annoying. In Enter the Fat Dragon, his performance is definitely on the positive side of things. Mo is impressive as always, and the past few years have really seen Cheung flourish into the supporting comedic character role. He almost feels a bit like the new Chapman To, circa the early 2000s.
But what about the film itself? Before going any further, it might be worth remind ourselves that this is a film with Wong Jing’s name stamped with a writing credit. What that actually means might differ from person to person, but I think most audiences familiar with Hong Kong cinema will associate any film by Wong with a certain level of campiness. And this sometimes even applies to some of his more serious fare. But it seems like Wong has been taking a slightly more backseat approach lately, sharing his directing credits with a younger director for almost all of his films since 2014. I think this is quite laudable from a mentorship standpoint, and also seems to be elevating the overall quality of his films. A win-win situation that I hope he continues for the remainder of his career.
Having said that, even without curbing your expectations too much knowing that this is essentially still a Wong Jing film, Enter the Fat Dragon is a fairly enjoyable piece of Hong Kong cinema. It certainly calls back to a lot of older Hong Kong films, including a few clever reenactments of Yen’s previous hits.
The sense of nostalgia extends to the overall feel of the film as well, which plays by and large like something only Hong Kong cinema could produce. The wackiness and slapstick humor doesn’t always work in a film, but it almost always does in a Hong Kong film. Enter the Fat Dragon isn’t a breakthrough in anyway or for anyone in particular (even Yen), but it’s a fun, decently put together entertainment that is sure to satisfy fans of Yen. And for all the closet fans of the great Wong Jing, this will certainly not disappoint you, either.