Although 88 Films and Arrow Video have the famous Shaw Brothers on lockdown, Eureka has slowly amassed one of the best libraries out there for classic Hong Kong cinema from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s by focusing on the classics that don’t necessarily fall under singular studio umbrellas.
In particular, they’ve done a great job focusing on the work of Sammo Hung, with 10 of his directorial efforts in their catalogue and even more featuring him as a performer. For those in the dark, Hung is basically one level below Jackie Chan in terms of Hong Kong cinema stardom. Hung was actually directing, choreographing and starring in films before Chan, and I’m glad Eureka has been helping him get the respect he’s long deserved as an actor but also as a director. Knockabout is another great one that Eureka has given new life and attention.
Starring Yuen Biao (who studied alongside his “brothers” Chan and Hung in the Peking Opera School) as Yipao and Brian “Beardy” Leung as Taipo, two con artist brothers, Knockabout is an easy-going film that also serves up Hung’s trademark brand of ass-kicking choreography. Knockabout also stars the iconic Lau Kar-wing (relishing a rare villain role), playing a beggar who might also be a kung fu master. The plot is fairly light in terms of actual details, but that’s no matter: Biao and Leung are a lot of fun as the two brothers, and honestly, Leung was a revelation in this for me — sticking out in the role with great charm and charisma.
Biao is great as well in one of his first starring roles, able to project a great kind of innocence and purity of emotion that suits him down to a tee, and a mode in which Chan and Hung often struggle to move (talented as they are). It’s great to see the often more forgotten of the brothers get the spotlight in Eureka’s latest releases, and he’s getting his long-due credit in the West at least.
Hung himself acts in the film, too, and is pretty fun, humbly relegating himself to a supporting role. It all comes together with the fights, of course, which are up to his standards and include an incredible 15-minute climax. In many ways, Knockabout is one of the films where Hung’s move away from Shaw formula to something more his own is first visible.
Eureka, as always, brings the goods with extras. Not only do we get a handsome slipcase to go with the others Eureka have published, but there are two versions of the film (one HK and one export) restored from 2K to 1080p, original Cantonese audio (and an English dub for those who like ’em), newly translated English subtitles (always a joy), two new audio commentaries (including one from the great Frank Djeng, a regular on the boutique Blu-ray commentary circuit now), and a few archival interviews. It’s the complete package for what is not exactly a landmark film, but it’s a good film — one certainly worthy of preservation — and I’m glad Eureka has done just that.