‘Enter the Fat Dragon’: Donnie Yen in a fat suit…why?

Society & Culture

"Enter the Fat Dragon," an action-comedy starring Donnie Yen in a fat suit, is a remake of a 1978 movie by the same name. When it isn’t bogged down by cliches, or pushing family-friendly, New Year schmaltz, it can be fairly entertaining.

Donnie Yen in Enter the Fat Dragon

For the Chinese movie industry, coronavirus probably couldn’t have come at a worse time. Mere days before the start of Chinese New Year, a huge money-making season, tens of thousands of theaters across the country were closed to contain the outbreak. Productions were halted, release dates were pushed back, and a lot of theaters probably won’t be opening back up for business. Now, after briefly opening and closing again in June, Chinese theaters have gradually started to reopen. In the meantime, Chinese companies have continued to hold back major releases, like the Jackie Chan spy thriller Vanguard (急先锋 Jí Xiānfēng), while also experimenting with streaming options.

Enter the Fat Dragon (肥龙过江 féi lóngguò jiāng), an action-comedy starring Donnie Yen (甄子丹 Zhēn Zidān) in a fat suit, was one of the first guinea pigs for this experiment. Yen’s latest movie was made available for streaming on February 1, with 63 million viewers paying to watch it on Tencent within the first three days of release. The past decade, Yen has been known for playing the stoic Wing Chun master in the Ip Man (叶问 Yè Wèn) franchise. His role as Mulan’s mentor in the upcoming Disney remake also looks like serious fare, so this effort as an overweight cop in a goofy comedy like Enter the Fat Dragon comes as a big surprise. (No lazy pun intended.)

Honestly, if I imagined any Sammo Hung movie would be remade for modern audiences, 1978’s Enter the Fat Dragon (洪金宝 Hóng Jīnbǎo) would be the last thing on my mind. Hung’s original picture was a parody and tribute to Bruce Lee, all the while satirizing the endless Lee clones and impersonators of the era. It puts Hung in the shoes of Ah Lung, a Lee-obsessed pig farmer who comes to the city, works at a restaurant, and ends up fighting gangsters to rescue a waitress. Ah Lung is kind and innocent, but painfully naive, and finds that the city isn’t much like his favorite movies at all. While not a masterpiece by any means, it’s fun, vintage Hung, with some great fight scenes and jokes.

The new Enter the Fat Dragon shares very little with the original. Yen’s character Fallon Zhu is nothing like Ah Lung, save his rotundus figure and fondness for Bruce Lee. Fallon is confident and reckless, the kind of action hero who stops the bad guy while destroying half the world in the process. The opening scenes do well to set up his character. When he’s supposed to meet his fiancee, Fallon instead chases a group of bank robbers and jumps onto the gang’s getaway van as it’s speeding down busy Hong Kong streets. He busts the backdoor down and beats the hell out of the criminals. The chaos causes the driver to get stabbed and knocked out, spinning the van out of control. Fallon stops the car, but only after crashing into the police station and stopping inches before his superintendent.

Even though Fallon saves the day, his superiors have had it with his recklessness. The media dubs him “Jackass of the Century,” and he’s taken off the streets and demoted to hang around the evidence room. His fiancee Chloe, an actress lampooned as Hong Kong’s worst, breaks up with him. To alleviate his romantic and professional woes, Fallon binges on junk food and Bruce Lee movies. Six months pass, and he gains over a hundred pounds. After sitting on the sidelines for so long, Fallon is finally given a case to redeem himself. He flies to Japan for an escort mission that ends with his charge being very poorly protected. There’s a lot suddenly flung on the disgraced hero’s plate: the Japanese cops are corrupt, the Yakuza are plotting something, and his ex-fiancee just happens to be in Tokyo at the same time he is.

Although in a strange and foreign land, Fallon isn’t alone. He’s assisted by Thor, a former Hong Kong cop who followed the woman he loves to help with her restaurant. Charisma is sassy and tough, but has a sweet spot for her nephew Tiger, an orphan who can take on grown men with his kung-fu skills. Unfortunately, none of these side characters are as interesting as they sound. They’re all too often caricatures, with just the slightest twists and quirks to make them appear like more than cartoons. The two romantic subplots, involving Fallon and Thor and their respective ex-girlfriends, also come across as boring, sappy diversions that fail to add to these characters and their relationships in any meaningful way.

In some aspects, Enter the Fat Dragon seems to channel the energy and humor of ’80s Hong Kong comedies, when stars like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung were at their peak. There’s slapstick, crude jokes, and some impressive, certainly bone-breaking stunts. Indeed, the movie’s best and most creative moments come from its slick, frantic fight scenes. I especially enjoyed the opening fight, which sees Fallon taking on a gang by himself, as he’s harassed by journalists who stream the chase and even give a robber a weapon to increase their views. Another wonderful brawl in a warehouse sees Thor drive a forklift through a gang of Yakuza, while Fallon rides on top and eventually ahead of it, slugging down thugs.

Oddly, despite his massive weight gain, Fallon’s fighting abilities aren’t hampered in the slightest. He runs, jumps, and kicks just as he did when he had an eight-pack. In fact, hardly anyone brings up Fallon’s weight, with the movie barely acknowledging the gimmick. It’s a pointless novelty, and ditto for the shoehorned message at the very final scene that bluntly tells viewers that it doesn’t matter whether a person’s thin or fat. When it isn’t bogged down by cliches, or pushing family-friendly, New Year schmaltz, Enter the Fat Dragon can be pretty entertaining. With such a needless gimmick, a by-the-numbers plot, and a forgettable cast, it never goes beyond being mediocre though. Plus, why watch the 2020 version when you can see Sammo Hung take on a Bruce Lee impersonator in the original?