The Paper Tigers(2020)
Submitted by Tornado Dragon
The Three Tigers – Danny, Hing, and Jim – find out that their sifu, Cheung, took on another disciple named Zhen after they all left him on bad terms, and Zhen was the one who murdered him. After Zhen attained mastery of Cheung’s style of kung fu, he went out of control and started challenging – and brutally beating – masters of other kung fu schools. He eventually turned his back on Cheung and got mixed up with the Triads, using his skills as a hitman. Furious with Zhen for using his kung fu to murder people, Cheung vowed to take it back from him, but when they met in combat, Zhen killed him with the “poison fingers” technique, a striking move that stops the victim’s heart in minutes and makes it look like the victim suffered a fatal heart attack.
The Three Tigers ultimately find and confront Zhen, and he challenges them to face him at the Chinatown pier at 10:00 that night. However, only Hing is willing to answer the challenge; Danny and Jim feel that they can’t win it because Zhen knows “poison fingers” and not even Cheung could stop him. Hing thus fights Zhen alone, and Zhen viciously kicks his butt before dropping him off at the doorstep of Sifu Wong’s dojo with a note attached to him reading “number one before number two,” meaning that he wants to face Danny. After Danny and Jim find out what happened and ask Wong to take care of Hing, they decide to go out, find Zhen, and have him battle Danny in a fight to the finish.
The duo meets Zhen on the rooftop of a building, and Danny faces off with him in a best-of-three-rounds-style match where the winner will get to throw the loser off the roof. During the fight, Danny manages to fully tap into his unique ability to see his opponent’s attacks coming in slow motion. In the third round, he overwhelms Zhen and throws him against a maintenance shed. His neck hits one of the edges, causing it to break and injure his spinal cord, and he falls to the ground, virtually paralyzed from the neck down. Danny uses Zhen’s phone to dial 911, then leaves it next to him before departing with Jim.
Hing recuperates and continues to practice traditional medicine, Jim returns to teaching mixed martial arts at the Chinese community center, and Danny becomes a better father to his son. He also starts to regularly practice kung fu again and starts teaching it to his son.
After a potential lead in their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan) winds up being a dead end, the Three Tigers – Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan), and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) – go over to Sifu Wong’s (Raymond Ma) kung fu school to try to speak to their old rival, Carter (Matthew Page), and get more information from him, since they suspect that he knew that that lead was a bust. Carter meets them at the door, and while taking verbal jabs at the Three Tigers over tea, he tells them in a roundabout way that Cheung took on another disciple sometime after Hing left him 15 years ago. When Danny asks who it is, Carter answers by challenging the Three Tigers to beimo, intending to have them earn their answers by fighting him (which does not come as a surprise to the trio; Carter has been aching for a chance to finally beat them after spending most of his youth losing to them, particularly Danny). He then lays down the stipulations: He will fight them in three one-on-one matches, and if one of them manages to beat him, he will tell them what he knows. However, if they all lose, they must leave the school immediately. To the surprise of the Three Tigers, Carter shows that he has improved considerably since their younger days, and that – combined with the Tigers’ rustiness – enables him to defeat Jim and Hing. When he squares off with Danny, Danny exhibits signs of his unique ability to sense when an opponent’s attacks are coming the moment that they are preparing to use them (which he sees as an ability to “make the world slow down” from his perspective) and is able to better defend himself against Carter, but he is soon overpowered and knocked out. Sifu Wong then enters the room and forces Carter to stop.
After Danny regains consciousness, he asks Wong if Cheung took in a new disciple after he and his friends left him, and Wong replies that Cheung would’ve never have done that. Danny thus informs him that Carter told him that Cheung had another disciple, so Wong orders Carter to explain this. Carter tells them that, last winter, this disciple had sent him a challenge letter stating that he wanted to fight him here at the school, and he was aware that this disciple had already been around to the other masters and beaten them all badly. Carter admits that he ended up not answering the challenge because he chickened out; while the disciple was making his way over to the school, he locked up the place, turned off the lights, and hid up in the top floor until the disciple left. Later on, Cheung came over to personally apologize to him and told him that his disciple was totally out of control. Danny asks him where they can find this disciple, and Carter suggests that they try a workout facility called “The Dungeon” because his type might hang out there. Jim tells the others that he knows of that place and how it is said to be a mob front, frequented by journeymen who do enforcer work on the side. Carter adds that the disciple ended up turning his back on Cheung and got mixed up with the Triads, and Cheung swore that he would take back his kung fu. They clearly fought, but Jim wonders aloud how a master fighter like Cheung could have lost to his student.
The next day, the trio head into the Dungeon to find the disciple, and Hing tells the others that they will find him just by looking for the one person who hits the hardest. After a short search, they manage to find the disciple, Zhen (Ken Quitugua), by noticing the distinctive sharp, thwacking sounds he is making while hitting a punching bag hard. They then watch as he is handed a message from someone and then quickly leaves the facility on his motorcycle, so they tail him in Danny’s van until he comes to a stop in an alley close to a restaurant. They follow him into the establishment, and after they watch him follow an old man dining there into the bathroom, Hing goes in after him alone to see what he is going to do next. Shortly afterwards, he watches as Zhen pretends to know the old man before performing a quick, concentrated strike on his upper back under the guise of a friendly smack, then pretends to have mistaken the old man for someone else. After the old man leaves to return to his table, Hing realizes that Zhen just performed the fatal and seldom seen “poison fingers” technique (a.k.a. the “death touch”) and draws the conclusion that Zhen is a kung fu hitman. He returns to his friends, but just as he is reporting his findings to them, they suddenly see the old man suffer a big heart attack and then die. This helps them realize that Zhen killed Cheung with the exact same strike, since he died of what appeared to be a heart attack.
The Tigers approach Zhen when he returns to his motorcycle, and after Hing asks him who taught him poison fingers, Zhen recognizes who they are. After Zhen’s attention is grabbed when Jim calls Danny by his clan name, “Dai Si-Hing,” Danny shows Zhen the brand on his inner right forearm, indicating his status as Cheung’s official clan inheritor. However, Zhen shows the Tigers that his own inner right forearm bears the same brand, shocking Danny the most because only one person can inherit the clan. Zhen explains that Cheung wanted another “son” after they all left him, and then he asks Danny if Cheung was telling him the truth when he told him that Danny had hit him before he left his side, piquing the curiosity of both Hing and Jim. Zhen then tells Danny that the fiercest tigers can never share the same mountain before calling beimo on him. However, before they can clash, Danny’s ex-wife, Caryn (Jae Suh Park), suddenly calls him on his cell phone, telling him that she needs him to pick up their son, Ed (Joziah Lagonoy), from school. Danny replies that he can’t do it and then hangs up on her, but by this point, Zhen has decided to forget about fighting Danny here and now. Hing and Jim tell Danny that they need to stop Zhen, but Danny replies that if they fight him here, the cops will likely show up, and they will have to fight them off, too. Before driving away, Zhen tells them to meet him at the Chinatown pier at 10:00 tonight.
Danny, Hing, and Jim go somewhere else to talk about the situation they’re now in, and Hing is the only one eager to take any action against Zhen because he has been murdering people using their kung fu. Jim then questions Danny about when he hit Cheung, and Danny confesses that he did it back when he told Cheung that he was going to Japan to participate in a professional, big-money fight in Tokyo (with Jim coming along to serve as his second). Cheung was completely against it, telling him that a kung fu man should never trade in his honor for money. Danny got mad after hearing this and said something disrespectful to Cheung, and after Cheung responded by calling him a disgrace, they had an argument that got so heated that he just lashed out and hit Cheung (Danny left his side immediately afterwards, and he proceeded to lie to Jim by telling him that Cheung had given them his blessing to go. However, on the day of the fight, Danny disappeared on Jim and didn’t show up for the fight, likely because he felt terrible about how things ended between him and Cheung, leaving Jim to forfeit the match. Danny’s decision resulted in damage to his and Jim’s reputations as fighters, and this subsequently caused their friendship to fall apart, plus they both stopped speaking to Hing. As for Cheung, he lost his heart for fighting after Danny and Jim ditched him, so he just focused on studying medicine with Hing for the next 12 years until Hing, too, left him on bad terms). Hing tells him that they can all make it up to Cheung now by taking their kung fu back, but neither Danny nor Jim wants to take on Zhen because they consider it to be a no-win situation, given that Zhen knows the death touch and that not even Cheung could stop him. Disappointed, Hing tells them that their sifu taught them kung fu so that they could become good and righteous men, and there is a very bad man out there right now. He then reminds them that they all swore together that they would defend the weak, and their kung fu means nothing without their word. He then walks away from them.
Danny is then shown arriving at Ed’s school to pick him up, but he finds Ed getting beaten up by an older student. After putting an end to the attack, Danny takes Ed out to a restaurant for dinner. Ed explains to his father that he got into the fight because he was sticking up for his friend, who was getting insulted and punched every day by the older student. Though they have a discussion about whether or not it is okay to fight, it becomes clear to Danny that, in this instance, his son did the right thing. Ed also brings up how he once asked Danny to teach him kung fu, but he refused (feeling that, if he knew the martial art, he might have gotten the better of the older student), and he tells his father that he couldn’t just stand by and let his friend get hurt. Later, Danny brings Ed to Caryn’s house, and he forces Ed to sit down and tell his mother all about the fight he had. She reacts with strong disapproval, but Danny tells her that they shouldn’t be so hard on Ed because he is being honest with them and you are nothing without your word. After hearing this, Caryn asks him what he and Ed did last weekend because Ed told her that he took him to the Magic Land amusement park like he said and promised that he would do. Danny soon confesses that he didn’t (which she had already suspected) because he had to take care of something at work, and he also admits that he made Ed lie to her and say that they did go there, after which he apologizes to Ed for making him do that. Caryn orders Ed to go to bed, but when she tells him they will talk about his punishment tomorrow, Danny objects to this, telling her that Ed doesn’t deserve to be punished for defending his friend.
Meanwhile, only Hing shows up at the pier to meet Zhen, and Zhen gives him a brutal beating before dumping his body on the doorstep of Wong’s dojo with a note written in Chinese stuck to his chest reading “number one before number two,” meaning that he wants to face Danny. Carter gives Danny a call on Hing’s phone, and after telling him about what happened to Hing, he hurries over to the dojo. He arrives to find that Jim is already there and Wong is tending to Hing, and after Carter shows him the note, he decides that he must go out with Jim, find Zhen, and battle him in a fight to the finish. After asking Wong to take care of Hing, Danny makes peace with Carter, and then he and Jim stand before Cheung’s memorial and recite their oath to him. As Jim drives through town, Danny calls up Caryn and tells her that he wants to say goodnight to Ed because he didn’t get a chance to do so earlier, then basically tells her that he knows and accepts that she is a much better parent than he is, and whatever custody of their son that she thinks is best, even if it is full custody, he will sign the necessary papers. She tells him they will discuss this further tomorrow, then puts Ed on the line. Danny tells his son that he is proud of him for standing up for his friend but makes it clear to him that fighting is acceptable only if there are no other alternatives, and he had better not go looking for a fight because that will make him the bully.
Danny and Jim locate Zhen on a rooftop somewhere in the downtown area, and Danny officially calls beimo. Zhen then sets the rules: Best-of-three rounds, three minutes each, with Danny attacking first in the first round and him attacking first in the second round, with a knockout winning it all. Danny asks what will happen if they get to the third round, and Zhen replies that it will be a free fight, with the winner throwing the loser off the roof. However, Zhen warns Danny that if he loses, he will throw both him AND Jim off the roof. Danny wins the first round, but Zhen wins the second, forcing the third round to happen, and Zhen decides to nix the time limit rule for that round. However, during the rounds, Danny finds himself starting to tap back into his ability to make the world slow down, and after the third round gets underway, he brings it to full strength after he calms himself, gets his breathing just right, and thinks about his friends, family, and Cheung. He soon starts to overwhelm Zhen, and eventually, Danny grabs hold of him and throws him against a maintenance shed. Zhen’s neck hits one of the edges, causing it to break as well as injure his spinal cord, and he falls to the ground virtually paralyzed from the neck down. Jim asks Danny what they will do now, and Danny takes out Zhen’s phone and dials 911 with it. As he is doing so, he throws Zhen’s words about how the fiercest tigers can never share the same mountain back in his face, but then he tells him that he can keep his mountain. He then places the phone next to Zhen before departing with Jim.
In the weeks that follow, the Three Tigers’ lives go back to normal. Hing recuperates from his injuries and resumes practicing traditional medicine, Jim returns to teaching mixed martial arts at the Chinatown community center, and the trio’s friendship is fully restored. Danny also becomes a better father to Ed and takes him to Magic Land, and he starts to regularly practice kung fu again and also starts teaching it to his son. The movie ends with Danny training Ed in his garage, and we see that he had Cheung’s memorial moved in there.