THE PAPER TIGERS: Director Bao Tran Reveals The Film Has Been In The Making For A Decade (Exclusive)
To celebrate tomorrow's physical release of The Paper Tigers, we spoke exclusively with the creative team and learned from the director that the martial arts movie has been in development for ten years!
The Paper Tigers is a martial arts comedy that has made headlines with its exceptional Rotten Tomatoes score (after receiving a 100% critics score, it has only dropped to 98% following the film's digital release).
With the popularity of Cobra Kai and the upcoming release of Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, more and more people have been navigating their way into the genre. Fans of the MCU will find that the brilliant blend of laughs and action of The Paper Tigers is a perfect opportunity to do so.
Tomorrow sees the physical release of the movie, bringing the martial arts/comedy blend to an even wider audience. The synopsis and trailer below summarize The Paper Tigers, which follows three martial arts students late in life attempting to avenge their long-forgotten master.
As teenagers, kung fu disciples Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) were inseparable. Fast forward 25 years, and each has grown into a washed-up middle-aged man seemingly one kick away from pulling a hamstring—and not at all preoccupied with thoughts of martial arts or childhood best friends. But when their old master is murdered, the trio reunites, soon learning that avenging their sifu will require conquering old grudges (and a dangerous hitman still armed with ample knee cartilage) if they are to honorably defend his legacy.
We had the incredible opportunity to chat with the creative team behind The Paper Tigers. Talking to producer Al'n Duong, stunt coordinator and star Ken Quitugua, and director Bao Tran, we learned how the shots were broken up and the fact that the project has been in the making for over a decade.
Below, we have embedded the audio podcast to listen to what the director says as you read the included transcript. For those interested in the fully immersive interview experience, we have also added the full video at the bottom!
Literary Joe: Did you guys work together in the writer's room initially before going out on your separate duties?
Bao Tran: I wrote the script and basically started with the treatment that these guys were involved in and had eyes on very early on. They saw all the iterations of even us just sitting around and figuring out what the whole idea was, what we were feeling about relationships, even just our own biography. We started sharing our own stories about our martial arts histories and what that meant to us, and what our teachers meant to us as well.
I was picking everybody's brain through that whole process and understanding what martial arts can mean to so many different people. Some people had really fond memories of their masters and their teachers, and some people did not. It was an interesting research process of understanding the whole complicated structure of a teacher and a student and what that means. And how much power a teacher has over a student really, and really understanding what that means. And then iterating that over several screenplay drafts until we felt like it was the right thing.
So that was about seven years ago with about ten years in the making to kind of get to where we are today. It took about three years to write, and once I had the script, it was pretty much settled once we went out to find financing and give it to the actors to prepare. Obviously, actors came in and brought their own input with improv and whatnot, but it was pretty much set in stone quite early on.
Literary Joe: Did the actors who played the older and the younger versions of the three tigers work together, or were all of their scenes done separately?
Bao Tran: We did all this before COVID, but it was actually done separately. You'd do it normally together, though, but this was an independent film. There's nothing conventional about it. What happened was that we had such a hard time raising money, and it was a long journey to get to where we could have a green light. We had some of the money in place, so we decided to shoot the beginning portions with the whole young cast. So we spent a week with them and shot them out. We had that footage that we turned into our Kickstarter trailer and started raising more money to shoot the rest of it.
Again, it was a non-traditional, non-linear way of making movies, but all these actors, in a way, owned their segments. They had their own influence and stamp. They were number one on the call sheet, so the young actors had that swag, and they didn't have the worry and the burden of what the future actors were going to look like. So in a way, it was much more carefree, much more commanding as a performance, and just gave them that swag for those opening scenes.
And then, later on, we cut those scenes and made an assembly. And then we gave it to the actors, who we eventually cast for the final parts. And then they saw themselves in this VHS image of who their younger selves were, and that influenced the older versions. So in a way, it was like life. It's like the boyhood of martial arts; you create something not knowing what it's gonna look like because that's the truth of how life is. So they are as young and carefree as they need to be.
And then for the older adults, they can look back and see what their younger selves look like and feel that dissonance and feel how far they've fallen off, if you will. And it worked out in the longways, and even logistically, breaking up the shoots helped us learn lessons and figure out what to do better on the bigger shoot. Because if we did it all in one go, it would have been really hard.
You can see the full video interview with director Bao Tran, producer Al'n Duong, and action choreographer Ken Quitigua below. As always, be sure to share your thoughts in the usual spot!
I had the incredible opportunity to speak with the team responsible for The Paper Tigers, an amazing martial arts film that blends comedy and action to deliver an experience worthy of a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. The director, Bao Tran, the producer, Al'n Duong, and the action choreographer, Ken Quitugua, all chatted with me about their experience putting the film together, the combination of martial arts that are involved, and the process it took to put together such a revered film.
The Paper Tigers is available on digital now and releases on Blu-ray & DVD tomorrow, June 22, from Well Go USA Entertainment.