Little Boo (Yuen Biao) thinks he is onto a winner with the tiny nugget of gold he has found, and he visits the pawn shop seeking a reasonable price for it. Well, he gets a couple of coins, but then he is given a larger piece of gold by his cousin, Big Boo (Bryan Leung Kar-Yan) which he returns to the pawnbrokers with and is promptly tricked out of his due, apparently unbeknownst to him. He and Big Boo then divide the spoils, well aware that the gold was fake, but their habitual infighting means they lose track of the coin bag, not knowing it has been stolen and replaced with useless substitutes...
Naturally they don't find this out until they are at the local casino and trying to make a profit on their ill-gotten gains, but that was very much the tone of the first half of Knockabout, which appeared to take its cue from international Hollywood hit The Sting by depicting two characters for whom the world offers nothing but opportunities for as many cons as possible. But that is not what the film is remembered for, as it was the debut lead for the "Little Brother" to Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, the former directing and choreographing as a helping hand to set Yuen on the path to stardom.
Unfortunately for Yuen, even in Asia he would always be in the shadow of Sammo and Jackie, and though they continued to assist each other's projects he would always be, if not a distant third in the public's affections, then never number one. But he had a secret weapon, which was that he was probably the best at kung fu out of all the trio of childhood friends, and if he was not, then he certainly had them beat where athleticism was concerned. Just watching Yuen in action in this and you will be frequently astounded at his agility, his multiple somersault party piece merely one in a whole repertoire.
So if you really wanted to see the human body pushed to its outer limits in the service of entertainment, martial arts connoisseurs would recommend you checked out a Yuen Biao movie, he truly was incredible. Knockabout was a good enough place to start, though it took half the movie to warm up and let rip with the most impressive fight sequences, as often with Sammo Hung directed films he frontloaded the story with broad comedy, and built up to the combat that could often be quite serious, though he would not entirely abandon the humour even after something very grave has occurred to one of the main characters. And naturally, the abundance of training sequences was spectacle in themselves.
The plot had it that Big and Little Boo are always out to make a fast buck, risking making our leads unsympathetic and only avoiding it thanks to almost everyone they meet doing the same. They contrive to be beaten up by Old Fox (Lau Kar-Wing in old age makeup), a mature gentleman who puts them in their place after yet another scheme goes wrong, but sensing an opportunity, they muscle their way into his life to persuade him to improve their kung fu. But Old Fox hides a secret, leading up to the first big twist, whereupon, aware the movie needed a star name, Sammo shows up as a beggar who wouldn't you know it? He has major skills in combat too, and can pass them on: cue more training montages. It was clear Yuen was trading on his physical resemblance to Bruce Lee at this point (same hairstyle), but keen to mark out his own singular style, and after watching his physical prowess here you will be exhausted. Music by Frankie Chan (with the odd borrowing).
[Eureka release this on Blu-ray with the following features:
Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling | Reversible sleeve design featuring original poster artwork | Two versions of the film presented in 1080p on Blu-ray from 2K restorations (Original HK Theatrical cut and the shorter Export Cut) | Original Cantonese mono audio | Optional English dubbed audio | Optional English Subtitles, newly translated for this release | Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) | Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema | Archival interview with Sammo Hung | Archival interview with Bryan "Beardy" Leung Kar-yan | Archival interview with Grandmaster Chan Sau Chang (aka The Monkey King), a master of Monkey Style kung fu | Deleted Scene | Trailers | PLUS: A Limited Edition collector's booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver.]
Hong Kong born actor, producer and director and one of the best known figures in Hong Kong cinema. Hung's large frame belies a formidable martial arts ability, and he's best known for his collaborations with Jackie Chan during the 1980s and more recently for his US TV show Martial Law.