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雜家小子 (1979)

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 05/16/2009

Yuen Biao had a lot riding on “Knockabout”—a chance to show that his combination of martial arts prowess, good looks and decent acting skills could blossom into the charisma of a movie star, someone who could be at the center of a major picture. Surrounded by a combination of old pros and rising young stars, given a script that was no worse than most kung fu comedies of the period and produced by the masterful Raymond Chow he was given every chance to flourish, which he did.

The humor is labored and was probably funnier in a packed cinema surrounded by like minded fans, all of whom got the jokes. It didn’t translate that well but enough of the jokes involved either straight physical comedies—a pratfall can be funny in any language—or outrageous transgressions of the norm. For example the quests of our heroes to find ordinary citizens to beat up, since real fighters are just too tough to deal with at their current stage of training. But the first part of the film moves rapidly enough with the brothers Yipao and Dai Pao getting into and out of scrapes, succeeding and then failing abysmally in a confidence game involving counterfeit golden taels, getting away with cheating at the gaming tables once then getting discovered and beaten up when they try it again. They are a likable pair: young, brash, on the make and willing to try anything.

“Knockabout” has many characteristics of a Bildungsroman, the story of an individual’s growth and development, the difficulties, setbacks and misfortune he encounters along the way and his increasing understanding and maturity as he overcomes them. It is Yipao’s story—the death of his brother is the turning point of the tale, the one action that makes inevitable his final confrontation with evil, as exemplified by Chia Wu Dao. What had begun as a buddy comedy become a deadly battle between innocence and corruption. The young apprentice realizes the real nature of his master and engages him in the fight of his life.

Chia Wu Dao is an extraordinary villain. He is evil incarnate, corrupting the young, betraying those who depend on him, killing without remorse. He trains Yipao and Dai Pao until they are able to defeat other martial artists, and then fools them into beating up two of his enemies. The enemies are knocked out making it easier for Chia Wu Dao to murder them. He is on the run both from the law and from his former partners in crime and is willing to kill as a first resort. This ruthlessness, combined with his unmatched ferocity and skill in combat, make him a scoundrel for the ages.

Sammo Hung played a stock character the beggar who knows more kung fu than the monks of the Shaolin temple. His mannerisms are annoying, but only a bit—Sammo being Sammo, we forgive him a lot of tics and twitches. Karl Maka’s captain was all eccentric mannerisms and idiosyncratic quirks—he could have toned his act down a lot. Lee Hoi-Sang doffed his abbot’s robes and bald pate for civilian attire and a really strange haircut and showed off his skill as an action actor and martial artist. Lau Tin-Chi and Peter Chan Lung were outrageously repellant as the corrupt banker and his son, each of them stroking the long hairs growing from a malignant looking mole on his cheek while congratulating themselves on cheating the seemingly gullible Pao brothers.

While the supporting cast was very strong, the cameos and bit players were an all-star team. Yuen Tak, Lam Ching-Wing, Chung Faat, Wellson Chin Sing-Wai are just some of the artists who had long lists of credits as directors and action directors and who acted pretty much as stunt men here. The Hong Kong studio system may have been full of inequalities and injustices but it made it possible to assemble a ridiculously deep and talented cast.

Despite its drawbacks “Knockabout” is a terrific movie, full of action and pathos and is highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 05/07/2008
Summary: "There's no power like old power!" -- Jia Wu Dao

Yuen Biao never got the acclaim that his Peking Opera brothers Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan obtained (all part of the Seven Little Fortunes), but for martial art movie fans he is still widely appreciated. His breakout in the Hong Kong film industry was his first starring role in Knockabout in 1979. Of course, it helped that the director was Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, but Yuen's reputation was solid for his years of stunt work, being an extra and doubling actors for dangerous or acrobatic scenes (he would continue to do that after this film). This film is full of underappreciated martial artists and performers though.

Knockabout is the fourth film directed by Sammo Hung and is one of the many hybrid Kung Fu comedies (Mo Lai Tau style) produced by Golden Harvest that were popular in the late 70's Hong Kong like Drunken Master (1978) and Hung's earlier film Enter the Fat Dragon (1978). While it was not the resounding success that Drunken Master was, it has had a resurgence in popularity the past few years.

Biao stars as Hei Yu (also called Little John in the subtitles) as a congenial con-artist with his brother Big John (Leung Kar-Yan: Warriors Two, The Postman Strikes Back) who have to cheat or steal to stay fed. After a successful scam on a cheating gold exchange cashier (working off the old adage that the best people to con are the ones who think they are conning you), they decide to gamble their profit at the local casino. They are quite unsuccessful at it and get beat up when unbeknownst to them they try to fool a gambling house with fake money. But like the consummate con-men they are, if they fail once, they will look for another mark. The new rube is an elderly man (the not-so-elderly and underrated Lau Kar-Wing who is mostly known for being the brother of Lau Kar-Leung, though he is an excellent martial artist who has appeared in many supporting roles) who is eating at the local teahouse. Their set-up fails miserably and so they set to take revenge on Jia Wu-Dao by ambushing him. Of course, he just happens to be a Kung Fu master. After they get beat up they ask him to be their sifu. He eventually acquiesces, but there seems to be something mysterious and sinister about him.

There are a few problems with the film. Karl Maka's role as the bald inspector reminds me too much of a clone of Dean Shek. The composition of the film is unbalanced. It starts mostly with comedy for the first 50 minutes and then ends heavily with action. I liked both elements, but the cohesion of the two did not quite work as a whole. The plot's biggest weakness is the inevitable turn of Jia Wu-Dao against his pupils. You knew it was going to happen, but it felt forced. And the prolific use of lifting copyrighted material for music continues with the cue for the Fat Beggar lifted from Ennio Morricone's score in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966).

Luckily, there is so much to like with this movie. Biao and Leung work well together as brothers and would continue to work with Hung on later films. The portrayal of Jia Wu-Dao by Lau Kar-Wing is interesting because he is not a one-dimensional character. He cares for his adopted pupils and trains them well in martial arts (every good teacher always hides something from his students though). This makes the character change more shocking, but also makes it feel less real. I enjoyed the comedic touches like the overly flexible Yuen Biao (that is not his leg) and the ordinary men they look to beat up.

However, the best parts of the film are the training and martial art sequences in the last half of the movie. These segments are so strong that you tend to forget the somewhat meandering and mostly comedic nature of the previous scenes. The training involves some of the more masochistic devices to help, and I will not spoil them here. I will state that you get to see Biao show off his abilities with his excellent forms and most awesome somersaulting ability. The fighting scenes include an excellent team match between Seven Dwarfs (Lee Hoi-Sang: bald as usual), Snow White (Wang Kuang-Yu: The Water Margin (1972)) versus Little John and Big John. Also, I think you might enjoy the "finishing move" of Jia Wu-Dao. I am not sure I've seen much use of this professional wrestling move in Hong Kong cinema, but I have seen The Rock use it many times. Also, in the tradition of saving the best for last, you get a 12 minute fight sequence at the end that is sublime in its intestinal fortitude.

Sammo Hung was not only the director and a supporting actor in this film; he is also the action director (fans of the auteur theory should take note). His knowledge and presence help make this one of the underrated classics in martial art cinema. The competition between him and Jackie Chan during this time period helped create more intricate and daring martial art scenes for there movies. With Knockabout there is one of the best martial art movie sequences of the 70s. Knockabout is a must watch for devotees of this genre and should be a good case study for future action directors on how to choreograph. Knockabout also shows you the skill of Yuen Biao and why he should be regarded as one of the best martial art actors of the 1970s/80s.

The Fox/Fortune Star R1 release is a very good basic release. There are no dubtitles and the film is uncut. There is an English dub, a genuine Cantonese mono track and it is presented in a beautifully looking widescreen transfer. Unfortunately, like most of the Fox/Fortune Star releases you only get trailers as extras. Here is another example where the best release is the R2 Hong Kong Legends version (like so many of the Hong Kong martial art films on the Fox/Fortune releases).

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 01/24/2007
Summary: nice way to cook a chicken...

little boo (yuen biao) and big boo (leung kar-yan) are two brothers, making ends meet through various bits of scamming and scheming. one day, they try to scam the wrong man, silver fox (lau kar-wing), and they get beaten up. they decide to get their own back on silver fox; their plan is to become his pupils, learn his kung-fu and then desert him. everything is going to plan, until they discover that silver fox has a secret past, that is about to catch up with him...

now, this is a really enjoyable slice of old school kung-fu fun, featuring yuen biao, being simply amazing, in his first starring role. as the film's narrative progresses from the realms of daft comedy, with equally daft fight choreography, into a more standard kung-fu revenge flick, the choreography and performance from yuen biao becomes more intense, technical and impressive. the final sequences of training and combat, which practically dominate the final thirty minutes of the film, are truely stunning. sure, sammo (as a beggar, who trains big boo) and lau kar-wing play a part in this, but it is yuen biao who really makes it special.

if you're not too keen on the silly comedy of late seventies hong kong films then the first third of the film will probably not be to your tastes but, rest assured, you're in for a treat as the film gets int its stride. if you do like the silly comedy, as well as the kung-fu, then you're in for a treat from the start.

great stuff!

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 12/03/2006
Summary: Good

A solid kung fu movie, which starts out like a comedy (which isnt very funny but entertaining to watch) and you find out that Yuen biao and Leung kar yan are brothers who are con artist.

Unforunately for them, they try to con a kung fu master in Lar Kar Wing, which back fires and the brothers plead with him to teach them kung fu but they dont know that there master as a evil past...............and SAmmo hung just seems to be hanging around in the background as a beggar

Yuen biao shows he can play a lead character, Leung Kar-Yan shows he can do comedy,Lau Kar-Wing plays the master to perfection,SAmmo shows his versitality in acting!!

In 1979, i am assuming that this was one of the better kung fu movies and it still holds up to the test of time

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 06/29/2006
Summary: Essential for Yuen Biao fans

Two conniving brothers (Yuen Biao and Leung Kar-Yan (AKA “Beardy”)) meet their match when they run into The Old Fox (Lau Kar-Wing with greyed out hair). Impressed, they decide to train under the Old Fox. But things aren’t what they seem, and soon a new master in the portly shape of Sammo Hung comes to the rescue.

This film from 1979 is perhaps not as well known as PRODIGAL SON - the other Sammo Hung film starring Yuen Biao, but it’s almost as good. On repeated viewings, the humour can grate on occasions (particularly Karl Maka’s extended cameo appearances), but the action is solid and the characters are pretty much likeable. As a film, it doesn’t impress as much as PRODIGAL SON, but few films from this era really do!

Sammo gives a great performance as the beggar/kung fu master, but its Yuen Biao that really shines. This really is his finest hour (or finest hour-and-a-half). He flips, kick, and somersaults pretty much through the whole final half hour, and his skill truly is impressive.

I do wonder sometimes if Sammo had quite a different intention for the plotline of this film in regard to Lau Kar-Wing’s character. If you’ve never seen it, I’m not going to give anything away, but those who have will probably know what I mean. Whatever happened, it turned out for the best.

So if you’re a Yuen Biao fan and you’ve never seen this (which is possible), you really need to hunt it down immediately.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/18/2004

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.

[review from]

Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 04/26/2002

Brothers, Yipao (Yuen Biao) and Tai Po (Leung Kar Yan), are a couple of conmen who try to pull a fast one on an Old Man (Liu Chia Yung) in a restaurant. The Old Man out-smarts the two, so later, the brothers decide to gang up on the Old Man and teach him a lesson. To their surprise, the brothers are given a display of gung fu that they have never witnessed before as the old man beats them without breaking a sweat. Knowing that they can better themselves, the two brothers beg the old man to teach them gung fu. The Old Man, whose name is Ku, breaks down and teaches the two brothers gung fu. After some events past, Yipao and Tai Po find out that Ku is a killer wanted by the law and because of this, Ku tries to kill his two students. Ku manages to kill Tai Po, but Yipao escapes and meets an undercover cop posing as a beggar (Sammo Hung) who teaches him "Garbage Kung Fu". With his new learned gung fu, Yipao and his new beggar teacher take on Ku, the Old Fox.

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 04/01/2002

An absolute kung fu classic with all the right cast. This has been mentioned before and I will repeat it again: the beginning is really stupid. But don't let that get to you, because the latter part of the film has awesome showcases of authentic old school kung fu. I have finally seen a film in which Yuen Biao really shows his skills. The monkey style is difficult to choreograph, but Sammo Hung did it perfectly. Another point of interest is Leung Kar Yan's great performance. His role was extremely funny, and I was saddened when he died. Still, this movie is very heavy on the comic side. Of course since this IS an old school movie, the plot is rather thin (though not bad compared to others), it has to be about revenge, there has to be a villain, and he must die at the end.


Reviewed by: Ryoga
Date: 12/24/2001

Great movie! Yuen Biao and Leung Ka Yan ends up being students of Lau Kar Wing. Little do they know that their teacher is a criminal. Sammo Hung also stars!

Reviewed by: Kncklz2000
Date: 04/09/2001
Summary: One of the best HK movies from the 70's

This would have to be one of the best 70's movies in the martial arts genre ever made.

Yes it's true, the beginning can really annoy you, but you'll have to duke it out for at least 9 minutes before you can begin to enjoy the movie.

Yuen Biao and Leung Kar Yan are brothers that make a living by conning others. They eventually are caught and then beaten by Lau Kar Wing. Afterwards, he accepts them as his students, and this is where the movie begins to take its place.

From here on out, most of the movie is either training or fighting. 4 to 5 great fights, and then a misfortunate "accident." Yuen Biao runs off and ends up with the bum (played by Sammo Hung) that is responsible for Biao's and Yan's misfortunes.

Sammo trains Biao in a very unique way. For example, after about 5 to 10 minutes of training and fighting with Sammo, Biao tells him that he feels short-winded. So what does Sammo do? He tells Biao to start jump roping. Pretty simple, huh? Sure, except Biao has to use all of the techniques he's been taught. For about 3 to 4 minutes, we see Biao doing back flips, front flips, cartwheels, jumping kicks, Chinese get-ups, head springs and more, and ALL WHILE he is jump-roping.

In about a minute, we begin to watch the finale. Biao fights Wing for about 5 minutes or so, using different acrobatic and martial art techniques he's learned from Sammo.

Then the fight continues its way into a restaurant, where Sammo joins in to help. Both Sammo and Biao use the monkey style to defeat Wing, but he is still too strong for them. (This lasts for about 6 or 7 minutes).

Sammo gets kicked out of the restaurant and Biao and Wing continue their battle outside. After about another 3 or 4 minutes, Biao and Sammo finally defeat Wing. Can you guess how? (HINT: it's one of the trainings Biao had to go through while he was with Sammo)

The movie is about an hour and a half. The fighting and training, put together, would roughly equal to 40 to 50 minutes.

If you ever want to "convert" someone to Hong Kong cinema, this is the movie that would do it.

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 07/22/2000
Summary: Awful start, then superb

The start is simply terrible. The first half-hour is so sickeningly stupid that you may as well fast-forward over it, slowing down for the occasional fight scene.
But from there, as the two main characters' fu improves, so does the film. By the last half-hour, when the surviving brother has learned from two different masters, it's great.
Yuen Biao could not have hoped for a better intro to HK film. Despite inevitably suffering from the awful stupid sickly humour which Samo Hung as director shares with Jackie Chan as director, Samo has made this one a great star vehicle to show off Biao's considerable talent. The skipping scenes are already amongst my all-time fave fu comedy memories.
And if you're very quick, you'll spot Lam Ching Ying as one of the casino goons.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Samo is a bum who ends up teaching Biao his monkey kung fu so he can goback and defeat the sifu who turned out to be a bad guy and killed Biao's buddy. (They show scenes from this in The Deadliest Art.) The fight sequences are wonderful! I couldn't get a date--the box says 1979, but that can't be right. It was a Raymond Chow production, from the end of the 1980's--there's a trailer for Armour of God at the end. So it's probably 1979?

[Reviewed by Anonymous]