Donnie Yen is in the back half of his fifties, but like Jackie Chan (his elder by a decade) he’s showing no signs of slowing down on the big screen. He landed some Hollywood roles in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and 2017’s XXX: Return of Xander Cage, and he’ll be a major player in this year’s big Disney release of the live action Mulan. His efforts closer to home have kept him even busier with six additional features from 2016 through last year’s fantastic Ip Man 4 (2019), and his latest sees him kicking ass once again… with one big change. The small-framed Yen is now breaking bones and taking names from inside a fat suit.
Relationships are tough, and when one goes sour it’s easy enough to let yourself go a bit. Officer Zhu (Yen) knows the pain as his fiance leaves him high and dry for prioritizing his job as a cop over her. His department isn’t too happy with him either as he frequently takes all the glory with his high-kicking heroics and leaves a trail of expensive damage in his wake. Six months after being dumped and demoted, Zhu is now several sizes larger and desperate to be reinstated to his old job. He takes an easy transport job escorting a witness to Tokyo, but things quickly escalate forcing him to step up and tear down the bad guys.
Enter the Fat Dragon — a remake in name only of Sammo Hung’s 1978 action classic — is a cheesy, goofy, and occasionally broad comedy that sees Yen having a blast with a character and role far less serious than he’s used to. The fights are still frequent and fun despite the fat suit, and the film is arguably promoting body positivity along the way too resulting in an entertainingly guilt-free watch.
Early references to Zhu’s past instances of fighting fury feature brief clips from past Yen movies like SPL (2005) and Flash Point (2007), both stone-cold classics, and while they bring a smile — especially when one transitions to newly shot footage — they also can’t help but remind of Yen in his prime. He’s past that point now, although he could still easily kick most of our asses, meaning much of the fighting here is obscured just enough to suggest a steady use of stunt doubles. It still thrills and entertains as Yen (acting as action choreographer) and director Kenji Tanigaki deliver some fun brawls and set-pieces, but you don’t walk away as floored by Yen’s own fighting chops.
He’s flexing other muscles, though, including his comedic skills, and happily he delivers more often than not on that front. Yes, some of the humor misses the mark, falls flat, or relies on flatulence, but enough funny beats slip through to make this a light and breezy watch. Happily, the film also refuses to rely on fat jokes or body shaming for laughs. A couple baddies try and meet the wrong end of blistering punches for their trouble.
The title seems like an easy grab, but putting the original and the “remake” head to head leaves this version in the dust. Again, it’s fun, but Hung’s late 70s feature saw him kicking butt as a legitimately overweight man. Granted, that’s every Hung movie, but the film works because the action is stunning and made even more so by seeing his body do things ours can only dream of. Watching this new take you never forget that you’re watching someone in a fat suit and makeup. Also, and oddly, the wight gain never seems to affect Zhu’s fighting — he gets winded running once or twice, but his fighting remains exquisite regardless of size.
Enter the Fat Dragon is no game-changer and pales beside even last year’s Ip Man 4 in regard to its action, but it’s a difficult movie to dislike for even the slightest Yen fan. He’s a charismatic guy and clearly having a blast, and his enthusiasm is almost enough to leave you hungry for more.