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Knockabout

Fox // PG-13 // September 7, 2004
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
To you non-martial film geeks who may be reading this, I wish I could explain the excitement of the words "Introducing Yuen Baio" appearing in the opening credits of Knockabout (1979). While lacking the magical star power shine and creative vision of his Peking Opera pals Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, Biao was, without a doubt, just as gifted a performer. For his first starring role, he would be under the assured guidance of co-star/director Sammo Hung, who knew how to showcase his childhood friends acrobatic skills.

Yuen Baio (Righting Wrongs, Peacock King, Dragons Forever) and Leung Kar-Yan (Legend of a Fighter, Sleeping Fist, The Victim) are two con artist brothers always looking to pull a scam. They meet their match in an old man who foils their attempts to rob him. Setting out to even the score, they follow and attempt to ambush him, but he proceeds to beat the hell out the two bumblers. The two decide that those kind of fighting skills would come in handy and set out to make the old man their master. He begins to train them which comes in handy when two oddballs show up that he claims are his "enemies." With the two new pupils help, the "enemies" are easily defeated, but the brothers suspect foul play when their master cruelly kills the two men. These suspicions turn out to be true, and it will take new training under the unlikely tutoring of Fat Beggar (Sammo Hung) in order to defeat the deadly old man.

Knockabout is a typical kung fu comedy. The emphasis here is as much (probably more) on the gags and extended silly sequences as it is the fighting and stuntwork. So that means for the first half of the film the two are mainly cracking wise and getting giddy at the thought of ripping off a bank or pulling a number on a gambling joint. While they do get into a scrape or two, they aren't really good fighters. Even as they are training, once they get a compliment from their master (that they are good enough to beat most normal people) the first thing they do is take off into town to pull another scam because now they have the confidence that they can fight their way out if they are discovered cheating. Say what you will, at least they remain true to their character.

Actually, this brings about one the films most impressive qualities, the fighting actually evolves. Most martial films either begin with a lead who is a great fighter or someone who has to be trained. But, even in most training films, the person will go from boob to badass in a montage or two. Knockabout actually takes its time and finds at least three different stages of fighting progression. There is so much emphasis on comedy, it becomes a great way to make you stick with it because it isn't all about the fighting; it is a slow evolution into the flat-out, great fighting that occurs at the end.

Leung Kar-Yan and Yuen Biao make a very good, goofy comic duo. Sammo Hung is one of HK's great action directors, and this is one of the films where he shows why. It isn't the funniest film and the fighting isn't revolutionary (Sammo trademark epic finale isn't really present), but it is all quite solid. The little touches count too, like Sammo's wise use of Yuen Biao getting all of the leg training and Leung Kar-Yan getting the arm training which clearly utilizes their personal physical strengths.

The DVD: Fox/FortuneStar

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The print is clean and free from any major blemishes. While the lack of dirt is pleasing, Knockabout suffers from a slight flickering. This was also a problem with Fox's Prodigal Son release, though on Knockabout it isn't as severe. Still, the overall details, such as contrast depth, sharpness, and color, are all quite good. It does look its age, but thankfully doesn't have the hideous deterioration that is all too commonly associated with old school kung fu prints.

Sound: English and Cantonese DTS or 5.1 Dolby Surround tracks or original Cantonese mono track, with optional English subtitles. What is this? No "dubtitles?" Is someone out there actually listening to the fans? Way to go Fox. Yep, the old dubtitles are gone and some more direct translation subs are available. The changes go from the slight difference between "Hey, get the lead out." and "Hurry" to more extreme things like the English dub has Yuen Biao having some doubts and questioning a bit longer their masters true nature.

Purists will opt for the original soundtrack that, while muddled and obviously of limited range, has that undeniable traditional charm. The newer mixes really push the music and fx to the side and rear channels while the vocals are almost entirely in the front. On the remix side of things, they have gone for a "super-sound" on the fight sequences, enhancing basic movements with more whoosh-bang-kapow! I think it is a bit much but maybe not too terribly overdone for anyone who prefers the dub or surround options over the original mono.

Extras: New and original Trailers for Knockabout, plus Fox trailers for Postman Fights Back, Battle Creek Brawl, Iron-Fisted Monk and Mr. Vampire.

Conclusion: Well, in my kung fu film viewings (and believe me, that's a lot), I know I have yet to see a film where jump rope skills play a large part in defeating the bad guy. A solid kung fu comedy with some strong physical skills on display. The transfer is pretty decent and highly affordable, making it a recommended purchase for chop socky fans

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