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Feature
Hong Kong cinema legend Sammo Hung directs and stars in this 1979 action comedy. Biao and Leung play a couple of conmen brothers of little brain, always trying to fund their gambling habit through some scam or other. They have varying degrees of success but invariably manage to get themselves into a twenty man brawl or foiled by the Fat Beggar, played by Sammo himself. They decide they need some proper training and enlist the help of an old master (Lau), who teaches them some moves but turns out to have an agenda of his own. With revenge on the menu, you should never underestimate the Fat Beggar.

Knockabout

Knockabout is a minor entry in the Hong Kong martial arts canon, with an extremely formulaic "You killed my master/brother/dog*" (*delete as applicable) plot that tries to go hand in hand with a (literally) knockabout comedy style, complete with pantomime acting, ridiculous makeup and silly cartoon sound effects. Granted, kung fu comedies were all the rage back in the day, but they look a little daft now. Worse still, the early fights are repetitive in the extreme, with little imagination or variation, and the least said about the story the better.

Things improve dramatically in the final third as the film becomes a proper showcase for the astonishing physical prowess of Biao, who demonstrates extraordinary athleticism and grace, both in training sequences and the big final showdown. And you've got to hand it to Sammo too - he can fair throw himself around for such a big lad. But the shift in tone also jars, the out-for-blood finale sitting uneasily with the hijinks that have gone before, even if we do get to see the stars doing monkey impersonations.

Knockabout

Video
The anamorphic transfer is very nice indeed and has been restored to a high standard, considering the film dates from over a quarter of a century ago. The picture is clear and bright and blemish free throughout, with natural skin tones. The palette is fairly muted, so splashes of colour stand out well and, although there is a hint of blurriness when the movement gets really fast, it's far from a problem. There are very few night scenes, but blacks and shadows are adequate when they do appear.

Audio
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a bit of a disappointment, with clear enough dialogue but most of the action being presented in fairly timid fashion. Kicks and punches lack authority and the sub doesn't offer a whole lot of assistance, with the rears doing little more than picking up fighting sound effects that bear no relation to what is on screen. You can also choose the original Cantonese mono, but it's not really an improvement.

Knockabout

Extras
The extras kick off with an obligatory Bey Logan commentary that is an endless source of information, pretty much all of it worth hearing. He starts by telling us that the Cantonese title for Knockabout literally means youngster who uses a mixture of street fighting. We learn about Biao's background in stunts and doubling for Bruce Lee as well as the various fighting styles that are used, and he even manages to make some good points about the juxtaposition of comedy and violence in these types of film. If you want to know anything about every actor in the film, how beggars like their hedgehogs served, or where Knockabout finished in the Hong Kong box office rankings of 1979, Bey Logan is your man.

Onto the interview featurettes, all of which are in Cantonese with English subtitles. The first is a seven minute chat with Sammo entitled Heavy Hitter, where he discusses how he and Biao first met when they were at school together, and how their styles complement each other. He also reveals that he gave up the starring role in Knockabout to him. If you think he was fat when he was young, wait 'til you see him now.

Knockabout

Then there's another seven minute interview with Leung Kar-yan, this one called Above the Law. Knockabout was one of his first major movie roles and he recalls how tough and demanding the shooting was, with Sammo expecting the fighting to be for real.

Next there's Monkey Magic, which runs a solid twenty-four minutes, mostly in the form of an interview with Chan Sau-chung. We learn about the history of Monkey kung fu and how it was developed by a master after he actually saw some monkeys fighting and wanted to incorporate their speed of movement into a style of his own. It can get a little dull after a while, as we're repeatedly told about different techniques, but there's plenty of information here for those who are interested.

Knockabout

Finally, there's Back-to-Red which is just under four minutes of Biao and Sammo performing moves and fighting in what appears to be a promo reel. Rounding off the extras are a pair of trailers for Knockabout.

Overall
Unless you're a truly avid kung fu collector or a Sammo nut, Knockabout is probably one to avoid. You'd need to really be amenable to the madcap style to appreciate what he's gone for here, but the skills of Biao make it just about worth a look.


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