Year of release: 1979
Genre: kung fu
Director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Yuen Biao, Lau Kar-Wing, Sammo Hung, Leung Kar-Yan, Karl Maka, Lee Hoi Sang, Mars, Lau Tin-Chi, Lam Ching-Ying, Wong Kwong Yue, Peter Chan, Tai San, Ho Pak Kwong, Chung Faat, Billy Chan, Yuen Miu, Cheung Wa, Yuen Tak, Yue Tau Wan
Not rated; contains II-level violence
Version reviewed: Fortune Star DVD
Yuen Biao's first time in a starring role is definitely one of the strongest entries in the old-school genre this reviewer has seen. Even though the plot is pretty basic and has been done many times before, Knockabout (under the guidance of Sammo Hung) takes a balls-out approach to the action that rarely leaves the viewer time to catch their breath. It's the kind of stuff featured in here that makes many fanboys weep when they see many new over-CGIed so-called "martial arts" movies.
In the film, Yuen and "Beardy" Leung Kar-Yan play a pair of con artists who are hitting a streak of bad luck. After being beaten badly by one of their intended victims (Lau Kar-Wing), the duo realize they need to improve their kung fu, and so Biao asks Lau to teach them his moves after promising servitude. Eventually, Lau takes up the pair's offer, teaching Beardy a potent punching style and giving Biao some impressive kicking skills. Things seem to be going fine -- the duo even manage to get some revenge on a casino boss that previously had them beaten -- until Yuen leans that Lau is a wanted criminal and has been using the pair to take care of his dirty work. Yuen knows he must defeat Lau in battle, but knows he is not powerful enough, so Biao starts taking kung fu lessons from a wily beggar (Sammo Hung) so that he can set things right.
Knockabout is a nice lesson in kung fu movie "economics". In its' running time, there is hardly a wasted scene, much less even a stray line of dialogue. True, the plot is nothing that deep, but it is nice to see a film that cuts straight to the chase. It seems as if Sammo Hung knew that the exposition was just a bridge to get to what the audience really wanted to see -- the action scenes. Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong at all with a film that has a deep plot and characterization. But sometimes, a kung fu movie just needs to be a kung fu movie, and Knockabout fits that bill to a tee. It was great seeing a old-school flick that didn't feel that it needed a dopey sidekick or sugary love interest to keep things going.
What does keep matters propelled here are some outstanding fight sequences. Yuen Biao is simply amazing as he twirls, flips, and generally beats ass with style. The supporting cast also does an excellent job. Every single brawl (of which there are a lot, and I mean a LOT, of here) feels balanced. Even though you know one of the heroes will eventually prevail, there's always a sense of suspense, since one of them seems primed to be taken out at the next step. Even though there were some things that could have been fleshed out a bit, overall Knockabout is a top-notch kung fu movie that deserves your attention even if you're not normally into the genre.
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