The only thing keeping Judge David Johnson from martial arts stardom is utter lack of skill and a chronically sore back.
Just stating a fact, people.
Facts of the Case
Two mischievous brothers, Big John and Little John (Yuen Biao), have made a life out of swindling people. The film begins with an elaborate ruse played on the local bank, which finds the brothers making off with a cool 50 taels, whatever the hell those are.
But their days of scheming come to a close when they meet their match: the Silver Fox (not Bea Arthur). The Silver Fox is a kung-fu master, who makes exceedingly short work out of the John brothers, who themselves are fairly adept at hand-to-hand combat.
Fascinated by the Silver Fox's skills, they petition him to be their master. Eventually he relents, and the first of many training montages unfolds. Convinced that they are bad-ass enough to rough up ordinary folks and continue their shifty ways, the John brothers hit the town.
However, a couple of sinister-looking hombres intercept them, and demand they lead them to the Silver Fox. Turns out the Fox has quite a few enemies, and for good reason: he's not as lovable as his name suggests.
When his master suddenly turns on him, Little John barely makes it out with his life. Big John, unfortunately, isn't so lucky. Primed for some vengeance, LJ seeks additional training from a weirdo named Fatty the Beggar (Sammo Hung, The Iron-Fisted Monk), who agrees to trigger another training montage.
Together, Fatty and Little John (a great name for a hip-hop duo if I ever heard one) embark on a vengeance quest to put the Silver Fox down.
Here we have another kung-fu flick directed by the legendary Sammo Hung (I reviewed his previous The Iron-Fisted Monk). With Knockabout, Hung is going for straight-up martial arts/slapstick, with none of the edgy stuff found in the predecessor.
Right off the bat, there is a potential problem here. Most old school martial arts movies are already comedic, what with the crazy music and the atrocious dubbing; most of them have built-in self-mockery. I mean, all of us love to mimic these flicks by saying something like "I am here to kill your brother!" and then moving our mouths a little bit after the fact. See? Hilarious!
As a "smart" comedy, with well-written gags and a farcical plot, Knockabout does not succeed. It's got its own ontology to compete with. But that's not to say that the film doesn't merit a viewing, or possibly a purchase if you found it cheap enough.
What Hung's movie excels in is some eye-popping physical feats. Up to the point where Little John begins training with Fatty, you won't be terribly wowed by what the film has to offer—la-dee-da fight scenes and incoherent comedy. But when Yuen Biao is given the opportunity to showcase his considerable athletic skills, I promise that you will be impressed. In particular is a "jump rope" sequence, where Fatty challenges Little John to perform all the new moves he's learned while jumping rope. The agility of Biao is staggering as he back flips and front flips and cartwheels and jump kicks. If there were camera tricks involved, I couldn't detect them. Even Sammo Hung gets into the fun (the jump rope gimmick appears at the end of the film), and the portly guy is surprisingly nimble himself.
This all culminates in what might just be the longest end fight of all time, perhaps besting the legendary climax of Jet Li's Fist of Legend. Taking place in three milieus, involving three fighters, destroying a restaurant, and featuring the aforementioned jump-roping finish, this 15-minute battle deserves to be witnessed.
Add to that some ridiculously absurd "monkey-fighting"—yeah, I'm serious—and Knockabout accomplishes what a noteworthy kung fu film should: its sets itself apart from the others.
Another solid treatment of an unknown martial arts flick from 1979 here. Fox gives you a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (though the picture isn't flawless, mainly because of the quality of the original print) and four digital mixes; DTS and Dolby Digital in English and Chinese for each. I was really impressed with the use of the discrete channels; a schmoove use of the surrounds for such a dated film. As with the other remastered Fox kung fu releases, the only extras are the trailers.
The accused is free to go and beat the stuffing out of unsuspecting jump ropers.
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