Film Reviews

Knockabout: A 1970’s Kung Fu Comedy

Two men doing martial arts in a green field.

This is a movie that I watched years ago that was very funny with a lot of slapstick kung fu. A gem from the 1970s found. This is a hard film to find unless it is ordered off of an online store or found through someone.

The two con men sitting down to eat with Jia Wu Dao. The two con men are bruised and sitting across from each other that they are both sitting next to the master while the master is mid-sentence dishing out food.
The two con men sitting down to eat with Jia Wu Dao.

Two con men, Yipao and Taipao, make a living exploiting and swindling the unexpected. The film starts with the pair conning an accountant out of bank money. But the pair run out of luck from the next jobs they try to pull and have nowhere to run. They see an old man fight off two crooks and the con artist pair were impressed. Eager to learn some fighting skills to increase their game in crime the pair request that the old man, Jia Wu Dao, teach them for a fee. They learn essential kung fu moves from their new master teacher then they go out in the city and test out everything on another group of unsuspecting audience.

The comedy in Knockabout is pretty funny. Yipao and Taipao are overconfident which makes all of the circumstances somewhat avoidable. It begins like a buddy movie that has a sports movie-like montage then develops into a slight revenge film that involves a beggar named Fatty the Beggar to help defeat the bad guy. The tonal shift in the film is based on a lie coming out.

Two men training with high kicks. Yipao is kicking high while Taipao is defending.
Yipao is kicking high while Taipao is defending.

There’s a lot of martial arts throughout the film. They practice it, train and we see a progression of skills from the characters. It’s surprisingly not a hokey montage of training because the arrogance of the characters trying new things and being terrible at first is always centrepoint. The fighting styles used were monkey style kung fu and snake style kung fu. The first fighting style was taught by their master teacher to upgrade the two thieving style. The training and fighting methodologies are a large part of the film. But we see Yuen Biao show off his athletic abilities throughout the film. He can jump really high and is very acrobatic. He was known as one of the most acrobatic martial artist in Hong Kong, possibly still the most acrobatic. This can be seen in the two training scenes that differ from each other that show off the techniques he was learning.

It stars Yuen Biao, Liang Chia-jen and Sammo Hung. Yuen Biao was a part of the Kung Fu Dramatic Arts the same art group Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan were a part of in their youth. The three of them collaborated on many occasions throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in films they directed, wrote and produced.

The film was written and directed by Sammo Hung. The screenplay was a collaboration with Huang Chik Chin and Lau Tin Chee. Sammo Hung also wrote Millionaire Express and Encounters of the Spooky Kind and directed other films like Mr. Nice Guy and Seven Warriors.

Fatty the Beggar and Yipao fighting in a hut.
Fatty the Beggar and Yipao fighting in a hut.

The film is a fictionalized version of the 19th century, Qing dynasty, China. The set looks authentic but it could have been a place the studio frequently use for movies in this era. There are a lot of films within a semi-rural city in the 19th century. The walls don’t look like foam with paint on them and the city walks around area moves in a believable space. The costuming is the same story from the 19th century but nothing to elaborate. Most of the time everyone is wearing a variation of working class indigo dyed or plain cotton jacket and pant set from the period. The white rags sewn onto the beggar’s clothes are from the period to mark the number of times the beggar was seen begging most likely sewn on by officials.

This was the original teaser trailer for the film that was released near the lunar new year. This was why the backdrop if the trailer was a red-orange. The fighting styles and banter were a preview of the type of comedy and martial arts that would be showcased. The comedy style is slapstick throughout the film. The film was originally released in April 1979 which ran for two weeks. The original name in Chinese was Za jia xiao zi.

Genre: Action / Adventure / Comedy
Year: 1979
Duration: 104 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Four out of five stars

All screenshots are from the film
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