A made-in-Seattle movie will be getting a national release next year — but you can get an early peek this month. Bao Tran’s kung fu comedy “The Paper Tigers” was acquired last week by the distributor Well Go USA, which plans to release it in theaters across North America in April 2021.
“It’s a perfect fit for us,” said Tran in a telephone interview recently, speaking about the deal. Well Go USA, he noted, is known for its handling of Asian action movies, such as the Ip Man franchise starring Donnie Yen — “really cool genre films that are really well done.”
Doris Pfardrescher, president and CEO of Well Go USA Entertainment, described “The Paper Tigers” to Deadline.com as “simultaneously heartwarming, action-packed and side-splittingly funny, an excellent homage to kung fu films of eras past.”
Written, directed and edited by Tran, “The Paper Tigers” had its world premiere in August, screening virtually at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival based in Montreal. It has since played at several other virtual festivals, and will next be available for Seattle-area fans to screen online at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, Oct. 23-31. (For ticket information, see sdaff.org.)
Tran, born in Olympia to a Vietnamese immigrant family, grew up watching kung fu movies and dreamed of directing his own one day. After many years spent working as an editor and directing short films (among his local credits are an episode of Lynn Shelton’s MTV series “$5 Cover”), “The Paper Tigers” is his feature debut — nine years in the making.
The film’s plot revolves around three former kung fu classmates who trained together as kids but are now middle-aged men with their own lives — one kick away, the movie’s website says, from pulling their hamstrings. “When their master is killed, they have to get together and find out what happened,” Tran said.
“The Paper Tigers” was shot during the summer of 2019, after intensive fundraising via Kickstarter raised more than $124,000 to bring the film to life. Among the locals involved were three members of the producing team: Al’n Duong, Yuji Okumoto (owner of the Seattle restaurant Kona Kitchen) and Daniel Gildark. Cameras rolled at various locations in Shoreline (where the old police department doubled as a production office) and the Chinatown International District. Tran remembered a warm sense of community support during filming — local restaurants in the Chinatown ID, he said, would bring out snacks. “Seeing Asian Americans making films,” he said, “was, I think, a delight and kind of an inspiration for the community.”
The film has been getting similarly warm reviews from its festival screenings. An Austin Chronicle review from the Fantasia Film Festival screening called the film “sweet and funny,” noting that Tran “aims for an old school Hong Kong comedy martial arts movie feel, lighthearted and light on its feet, and he lands that punch dead on.”
While the film will continue to visit virtual film festivals throughout the fall (see papertigersmovie.com to follow its progress), Tran is looking forward to next spring, when he hopes Seattle audiences can gather in a theater to enjoy “The Paper Tigers” together, as the final step in the film’s journey. “It’s been quite a trip,” he said.