"Knockabout" is a prime example of all the virtues of old school kung fu movies. It has cool characters, comedy, seriousness, a classic type of story, and loads and loads of great fighting and training sequences (especially, of course, towards the end). And it has these elements in such gold standard versions that it comprises a superb representation of the classic Hong Kong martial arts movie genre.
"Knockabout" brings together three of that time's top names in the world of kung fu movie-making, Sammo Hung, Ka-Yan Leung and Yuen Biao. Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao went on to do many movies with Jackie Chan, and actually Ka-Yan Leung's comedic role in this movie could well have been played by Jackie Chan. But I guess, at the time (1979), Ka-Yan Leung was a hotter name. This is the first time I've seen Ka-Yan Leung in a comedy role; he's usually very intense and serious, and often even bitter (see "Lightning Kung Fu" and "The Postman Strikes Back"). So this is quite a change. He pulls off the comedy part very well indeed, demonstrating that his acting range isn't limited to one kind of role.
The main reason Ka-Yan Leung's such a hot property, however, is his marvelous kung fu skills. In "Knockabout" he and Yuen Biao are a couple of thieving brothers who're pretty good at kung fu. But when they encounter a guy they can't beat, they beg to become his students. And indeed, he teaches them to become so good that (as he tells them) "ordinary people" are no match for them. So, the happy-go-lucky brothers promptly go out in search of some "ordinary people" to test their new skills against. They find a bunch of extortion racketeers at the local marketplace, who, when asked who they are, claim to be "merely ordinary people" - and then, of course, the fighting breaks out! Very effective comedy.
Sammo Hung plays a beggar/thief who follows the naive brothers, consistently fooling them out of half their loot. When their newfound master turns out to be a bad guy who only trained the brothers in order to fight off his enemies (who were using combinations of styles that no one person could counter, but two could), Sammo's the only one who knows enough kung fu to beat him. And that's leaving out a *lot* of details! This is a very good movie with a good story, but parts of it are not as entertaining as it could be. The seriousness is *too* serious, considering how wacky the movie's comedy dimension is, so it comes off as not being very well balanced.
I rate "Knockabout" an 8 out of 10. It's among the really good ones, although one movie with a similar cast that is even better, is "Prodigal Son" (1982), which I rate a 9. (9 is my top rating for movies without several layers and other exceptional qualities, like aesthetic cinematography, etc. So far, the only kung fu movies I've rated a "10" are "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero".)
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