Knockabout is an aptly titled movie. Read one way it means a scrap, or a punch-up. Another meaning would be broad, slapstick comedy. Directed in 1979 by Sammo Hung, it should be obvious that this kind of double meaning wasn’t a coincidence.
The movie follows two cartoonishly caricature-like brothers, Yuen Biao as Yipao and Liang Chia-jen as Dai Pao, two small-time crooks who aren’t particularly good at what they do. The pair are bested by Jia Wu Dao / Silver Fox – played by Lau Kar-wing – who beg him to train them. Cue training montage, wild plot twist, and spectacular closing fight scene. For good measure there’s also Sammo Hung getting involved in the mix as Fat Beggar.
As Knockabout is at its heart a comedy it’s a shame to say that the cleverest thing about it is the title. The cartoonish antics of Biao and Chia-jen lose their appeal rather quickly, and Hung’s character actually becomes almost an annoyance. The one redeeming comedy performance comes from Karl Maka as the police captain. For the most part the question being asked is ‘when are we going to get to the good bit?’. This is a shame, as in other movies each actor has shown just how good they can be. In fact, Knockabout is notable for having given Biao the platform to really launch his career, and it’s obvious why.
Even during the simpler slapstick moments Biao’s physicality impresses. At times audiences are left wondering if his bones are made of rubber, as he performs impossible feats with incredible ease. But once the movie switches pace and focuses in on the action Biao really has the chance to shine. His speed and athleticism are phenomenal, outclassing everyone else on screen, including his martial art brother Sammo Hung. With Knockabout we’re treated to the spectacle of one of the greatest names in Hong Kong action cinema about to hit his prime.
Within this type of movie there is a tradition of saving the very best to last; the final fight being a ‘big boss’ moment. Knockabout is no exception to this rule, nor does it disappoint with a truly monumental duel, expertly choreographed and pulled off. There is something of a feeling of ‘where was this during the rest of the film?’ but by and large it is a spectacular fight worthy of extra note.
Eureka Entertainment have presented a nice, 2k restoration. For those who grew up watching these movies on rented – often pirated – VHS copies, the improvement is always a treat. Even minor films of this type are beloved, and so it’s good to see them treated to the film equivalent of a fresh coat of paint.
The only original special features here are two audio commentaries, the first featuring Frank Djeng and the second Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. We’re also treated to three previously recorded interviews, the most interesting of which is with Grandmaster Chan Sau Chang, which stands out for its content and difference, as well as deleted scenes and trailers. Those familiar with the ‘classic’ range will recognise the James Oliver booklet, as well as the Limited Edition O-card slipcase.
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The fact is that not every movie made by Sammo Hung is a classic. Here we have an enjoyable enough film with some excellent fight scenes, let down by most of its ‘funny’ ones. This is not a winning combination for a comedy. However, it’s not a complete write off, and the sheer brilliance of Biao’s performance makes this worth a watch.
Knockabout is out on Blu-ray on 25th April from Eureka Entertainment.