Knockabout (1979)

When I was stocking up on those cheap Hong Kong Legends titles last year, this was one I took a pretty random punt on. Didn’t recognise the title, didn’t really know anything about it (the Bey Logan book doesn’t have much to say about it), but I saw Sammo Hung credited as director and actor, came to the conclusion that it could not therefore be entirely bad and so added it to the stack. This was wise of me. Don’t know about the Hong Kong title, but the English one serves as a concise but accurate indicator of what you’re in for once you press play: lots of people and things—but mostly people—getting knocked about. Yuen Biao stars as one of two brothers who’ve grown up into con artists and decide they need to learn better kung fu than what they already know; accordingly they appoint themselves as students to Lau Kar Wing’s enigmatic old man with a shady past, and he teaches them good but they’ll have to discover the secret he’s hiding from them, whereupon even better skills are going to prove necessary. The fights in this film make for literally bruising encounters, to an extent I’m not sure I’ve quite seen before in a film like this, and the film is also host to possibly the strangest fight I’ve ever seen even in a Hong Kong film, the one where the brothers take on Lee Hoi Sang in the forest and literally give him lumps, great big ones like something out of a cartoon. But where the humour in Last Hurrah for Chivalry just seemed odd, here it’s part of the whole brew from which Sammo fashions a neat mix of comedy and kicking arse, understandably reserving a fair portion of same for himself; the physicality on display in the best films of this kind is always amazing to watch, especially when it’s Hung’s deceptive physicality we’re witnessing. Much fun.

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