Hollywood isn’t the only film industry cranking out remakes of successful films. For nearly as long as Kung Fu movies have been a thing, remakes of extremely popular releases have been around. Bruce Lee hit the scene and there were a million pretenders to the throne, spawning a term called “Bruceploitation.” While a remake doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, Sammo Hung attempted to blend both with the 1978 film Enter the Fat Dragon.
Now, a little over 40 (!) years later, Donnie Yen is taking a crack at remaking that same film. 2020’s Enter the Fat Dragon should be considered a remake in name only, however. It doesn’t feature much of anything that Hung’s version had, not to mention it is comparatively light on the Bruce Lee references. You could almost fool someone by saying this was a completely original film.
The one thing they both happen to share is a penchant for kick ass action sequences.
Enter the Fat Dragon
Directors: Wong Jing, Kenji Tanigaki
Release: January 23, 2020 (Hong Kong), February 14, 2020 (US)
Fallon Zhu (Donnie Yen) is a daredevil cop on the Hong Kong police force that tends to cause more issues than he resolves. Never one to let the bad guys get their way, Zhu will jump into action like the star of a Kung Fu film and wreaks havoc as he punches and kicks assailants into submission. In the opening of the film, Zhu is waiting in line at the bank before heading off to take his wedding photos when some robbers break in. Envisioning a kick ass scenario, things go awry and Zhu is suddenly battling foes in a van on the highway while news stations capture the battle.
There’s a lot of backstory baked into the first 15 minutes or so that kind of gives you the wrong impression of the film. Zhu is shown being courageous and you almost expect him to walk out a decorated hero. Instead, he gets demoted on the force and his fiancé leaves him since he can’t turn off the job. Zhu is so fixated on being the hero and fighting for his ideals that he continuously creates more problems for everyone else. This is where the “fat” part comes in.
Being stationed in the evidence lock-up, Zhu starts to feel depressed about his lot in life. After a freak biking accident, Zhu is out of action for a bit and he starts to eat. His lack of physical activity and continuous eating make him larger and larger until he resembles Sammo Hung. While eating, Zhu partakes of some Bruce Lee Blu-Rays, which is about the only connection this remake has to the original (and its own inspiration).
Zhu is eventually offered an opportunity to regain his previous position at the police force. A Japanese informant has some information that could lead to the arrest of a triad group in Tokyo and Zhu is tasked with protecting him. He’s flown off to Kabukicho and things go sideways. Now the real movie begins as Zhu needs to relocate the informant, battle it out with some Yakuza figures, and regain the love of his life.
The biggest issue with Enter the Fat Dragon is that it is overloaded with plot. It’s telling that at the time of writing the Wikipedia page for this film has three different plot synopses, because there is a lot that goes on. This isn’t completely uncommon to other Hong Kong films, but it might confuse casual viewers as the film isn’t exactly straightforward.
It’s also odd because none of the plot really matters. I started to forget why Zhu was even in Japan roughly 70% of the way through because the film begins to focus more on the dynamics between him and his newfound friends in Tokyo. Zhu meets up with Thor (Wong Jing) and his estranged girlfriend (Teresa Mo) as he looks for refuge after battling some thugs. The story then becomes more an examination of discovering what matters most to you and how you should always fight for your ideals.
It’s…confusing? I’m not quite sure how to describe it. The moral of this movie is in direct conflict to the message it delivered in the opening moments. Zhu was chastised for being such a gung-ho cop, but then he learns to keep being that ballsy force of nature. The film almost wants to have its cake and eat it too, but I guess that ultimately isn’t the reason you’re here.
The action is the main draw of most Kung Fu movies and Enter the Fat Dragon delivers on that front. There’s a few disappointing uses of CGI, but most of the action is filmed well and consists of practical effects. Yen is obviously excellent, though I question why he even remains fat in the movie. The original was titled such because of Sammo Hung’s portly body and how it was deceptive to the villains that thought he was going to be slow. In this version, Yen is just Yen, but in a fat suit.
Still, that distraction doesn’t really hurt what is otherwise a solid little action film. Those familiar with Sega’s Yakuza franchise will likely have a blast as this movie is basically an adaptation of those games. It not only takes place primarily in Kabukicho (called Kamurocho in the games), but it has a lot of the same physical comedy and outlandish battles that made those games popular.
The main villain is even similar to some of Yakuza’s foes. He’s indignant to his elders, laughs when killing people, and welcomes Zhu to a battle on the Tokyo Tower for the climax. I was kind of shocked at how much this movie really did feel like a video game film. It was only missing health bars and some loading screens; otherwise you could have fooled me.
Not all of the comedy in Enter the Fat Dragon lands. There’s one joke centered on a police chief farting and it feels completely childish. I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of gross humor like that, but it is especially ham-fisted in its inclusion. There’s a really awful dubbed sound effect and it comes out of nowhere to distract the main characters. The plot then takes a weird detour so that Zhu can meet a Japanese interpreter and…I have no idea why I’m typing this all out.
Really, the film could stand to lose maybe 20 minutes of run-time. The bloated story is likely the reason many will walk away from this and not enjoy themselves. It can be a lot to get to those fight scenes, especially since the plot gets convoluted before it concludes. Couple that with a sometimes cheap looking production and I wouldn’t blame anyone for walking out.
These fights aren’t Yen’s best, either. They move at lightning speed and are all framed well, but Yen has done riskier stunts and has better setup the stakes of his battles before. Here, everything is just kind of an excuse to watch the set designers cry as their work gets dismantled in seconds. It’s kinetic and bombastic, but not dissimilar to a lot of 80s Kung Fu films.
Still, it’s hard not to smile at the cheesy love story going on here. Zhu learns a lesson, there’s a neato final fight, and the movie concludes with some still photos of the characters being happy. The main thing you should take away from Enter the Fat Dragon is to just have fun, because that’s really what this is all about. It might be messy, bloated, and a little scatterbrained, but so is life.
Just don’t take things too seriously and you’ll have a good time.