Fortune Star in Hong Kong have done us the incredible favour of releasing the Sammo Hung Action Collection, comprising three great films: hopping vampire flick Spooky Encounters, the Lam Sai Wing (student of Wong Fei Hung) story Magnificent Butcher, and this one, Knockabout.
Knockabout stars an actor who really deserved many more starring roles, given his incredible gifts as an acrobat and screen martial artist. I am, of course, talking about Yuen Biao, youngest of the students that trained at the same Peking Opera school at the same time as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah. He’s often relegated to the sidelines, playing supporting martial artist to Sammo or Jackie. Here, however, he’s given a starring role, playing Little John, one half of a duo of conmen taking advantage of the gullible and the greedy for a living.
The other half is Big John (Leung Ka Yan), and together they work the streets and the gambling houses, looking for fools to take for a ride. A couple of their schemes turn sour, however, and they find themselves beaten up and thrown out on the streets without a coin to their names. Desperately, they try to take advantage of a grey-haired stranger, played by Lau Kar Wing. He foils their plot easily, and defeats them with considerable ease and uncanny speed when they encounter him later on to try and take revenge.
Desperate once more, they plead with Fox to take them on as disciples, reasoning that learning his kung fu will improve their ability to pull of their con jobs. He relents, and teaches them: Little John learns footwork, and Big John learns to punch. Silver Fox is not the nicest of fellows, though, and when the authorities come looking for him he won’t be merciful to disciples who see things they shouldn’t…
Lurking in the background, twitching and playing the fool throughout this unfolding story is Fatty the Beggar (Sammo Hung), whose rotund, playful exterior hides a martial artist of considerable skill, disguising his abilities through pratfalls and an apparent ability to never be on the receiving end of a punch or kick.
This is a film with some really, really impressive choreography. Sammo had a string of hits around this time, and it’s easy to see why: his action scenes are inventive, dynamic and unpredictable. There’s a lot of acrobatics, too, doubtless made easier by the use of opera-trained actors and stuntmen. Yuen Biao shows off some amazing physical stunts towards the end of the film, particularly some very impressive flips and kicking to match almost any kicker I’ve seen on film. Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao work very well together, leading to some very intricately designed action scenes.
Lau Kar Wing is excellent as the sinister and powerful Silver Fox, looking a great deal like his brother (director Lau Kar Leung) and displaying impressive power and speed when he fights. The final fight between him and Yuen Biao is suitably climactic, and I can’t wait to get hold of more of his collaborations with Sammo Hung.
Thoroughly worth watching for fans of classic martial arts comedies and Yuen Biao’s physical skills.