He may be most recognizable to Americans as the big guy Bruce Lee briefly spars with at the beginning of Enter the Dragon. Hung has even worked behind the scenes on films that you wouldn't expect, like Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time and and the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Double Team.
What's ironic about this is that Sammo's one of the most talented directors to ever make martial arts movies. He's known for being a pretty sharp dramatic actor, too, in movies like Heart of Dragon, Eastern Condors, and Painted Faces. Somehow, though, he never achieved the fame to match his talents.
All that being said, Pedicab Driver is arguably Sammo's best work in the realm of traditional kung fu filmmaking. Sammo directs Pedicab Driver with flair and grace that would not seem possible from a big lug like him.
Sammo stars as Lo Tung, a pedicab driver in 1940's Macau who's looking for love. His best friends are all named after foodstuffs, like Malted Candy, Rice Pudding, and Shan Chan Cake. We don't want to know what their parents were thinking. Anyway, Tung has his eye on the beautiful Ping (Nina Li), who works at the bakery owned by Fang. Fang is a bit of a lecher, and has his own designs on Ping. Meanwhile, Malted Candy (Benny Mok) falls in love with Tsui (Fennie Yuen), who turns out be a prostitute owned by Yu (John Sham), a truly unpleasant gangster.
One of the best happens in a gambling parlour, after Tung and Ping are propelled through a window of the establishment by a lop-sided street chase they engaged in with some of Yu's thugs outside. Tung attempts to retrieve some money that Ping accidently dropped on a table. The owner of the establishment takes umbrage at this, and soon challenges, blows, and insults are exchanged ("Fatty, you with your thick face have hurt my instep").
The owner is played by Liu Cha-liang (a.k.a. Lau Kar-leung), one of the great old school kung fu actor/directors. You may have seen Liu in such films as Shaolin Challenges Ninja and Drunken Master 2, and he has martial arts skill far beyond what you would expect from a 55-year old. The hand-to-hand fight between Sammo and Liu is really amazing. Then both of the combatants get their hands on poles and battle, and we find out the fight hadn't really started yet!
Even though the plot could have been made a lot tighter, it's tough to argue with the film's mix of humor and drama. Pedicab Driver is particularly funny early on, and there is a really hilarious fight between the city's pedicab drivers and the normal cab drivers. The fight includes moves from the Three Stooges, and a little bit involving flourescent light tubes that makes us wish Sammo had ended up as the action choreographer on the upcoming Star Wars prequel. (Hung was considered for the job, but he apparently either didn't get it, or turned it down.)
So if you can find a copy of this somewhat rare film, we suggest you leap at the chance to see it. You will be seeing one of the most underrated martial arts film makers doing what he does best.
Review date: 4/8/98
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