Often appearing at the top of many fans “most wanted re-releases” lists, Pedicab Driver is a 1989 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by and starring Sammo Hung, featuring a whole host of guest stars.
Action Clip – Sammo Hung vs Lau Kar Leung
Needing no introduction, the legendary Sammo Hung stars as “Lo Tung”. In a career spanning six decades, he has worked with some of the best in the business, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan. His work as a performer, choreographer and director helped to reshape and evolve modern screen fighting action as we know it. From his earliest works such as “Iron Fisted Monk”, “Warriors Two”, “Knockabout”, “The Prodigal Son”, to his comedies and collaborations with his fellow “Fortunes” opera brothers, including “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”, “My Lucky Stars”, “Eastern Condors”, “Wheels on Meals”, to modern-day hits such as “SPL/ Kill Zone”, “Call of Heroes”, “Ip Man”, “Paradox” and “The Bodyguard”, there are very few others who have delivered such a variety of action to consistently superb-quality levels over such a long career.
One of Sammo’s peers, and equally legendary in terms of consistently delivering high quality martial arts action either as a performer or a director, Lau Kar-leung guest stars as “Casino Boss”.
Lau Kar-leung was a Hung Gar expert with a direct lineage to the Chinese folk hero and martial arts master Wong Fei-hung. In a film career spanning sixty years, he began working on the early black and white Wong Fei-hung movies starring Kwan Tak-hing.
Lau Kar-leung quickly rose through the ranks to appear in, choreograph or direct some of the most acclaimed martial arts movies of all time. Just a small selection includes “The One Armed Swordsman”, “Boxer From Shantung”, “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin“, “Mad Monkey Kung Fu”, “The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter“, “My Young Auntie“, “Martial Arts of Shaolin“, “Tiger on the Beat” and “Drunken Master II & III“.
Mrs Jet Li, Nina Li Chi stars as “Ping”, the object of Lo Tung’s affection. Known as the “Marilyn of the East”, Li is a former Miss Asia winner. She has appeared alongside Chow Yun-Fat and Conan Lee in “Tiger on the Beat”, Jackie Chan in “Twin Dragons”, and of course with her husband Jet Li in “Dragon Fight”. Appearing in over fifty films, actress Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying plays “Hsiao Tsui”, the focus of Malted Candy’s infatuation. She has appeared in the movies “Royal Tramp I & II”, “Swordsman I & II”, and “Tai Chi Master/ Twin Warriors”.
Opera trained stunt performer, action director and actor, Mang Hoi plays “Rice Pudding”. A frequent collaborator with Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, Mang Hoi has worked on dozens of classic Hong Kong films, including “Iron Fisted Monk”, “Warriors Two”, “Hell’z Windstaff”, “Dragon Lord”, “Yes Madam”, “Millionaires Express”, “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain”, and many more. Actor and singer Max Mok Siu Chung plays “Mai Chien-Tang/ Malted Candy”.
Originally recruited by the Shaw Brothers Studio, Mok is perhaps best known as Leung Foon in “Once Upon a Time in China II, III, IV and V”, after replacing Yuen Biao who was in the first film. In the Philippines, he is known as Bronson Lee. Having appeared in nearly 200 films, veteran Taiwanese actor Sun Yueh, made one of his final appearances as “Fong the Baker”. He appeared in King Hu’s “Raining in the Mountain” and “Legend of the Mountain”, and featured in “Fantasy Mission Force” and “City on Fire”.
Actor, producer and presenter, John Shum Kin-Fun is the odious gangster “Master 5/ Fifth Master”. John Shum has cropped up in many classic Hong Kong films over the years, including the “Pom Pom” series of action comedies. He usually plays smaller supporting or cameo roles. Martial arts fans will know him from movies such as “Winners & Sinners”, “Wheels on Meals”, “Yes Madam/ Police Assassins”, and “Curry & Pepper”.
In recent years he has been less involved with the film business and focused on the pro-democracy political movement in Hong Kong. Making up Fifth Master’s main henchmen are a trio of experts in this field; Billy Chow Bei-Lei (“Fist of Legend”, “Dragons Forever”, “Eastern Condors”, “Blonde Fury”, “Miracles”, “Tai Chi Boxer”), Eddie Maher (“Yes Madam/ Police Assassins”, “Royal Warriors”, “Magic Crystal”, “In the Line of Duty 4”, “Don’t Give a Damn”) and Cheung Fat (“Warriors Two“, “Magnificent Butcher”, “The Prodigal Son“, “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”).
Throughout the film several well known Hong Kong film actors, stunt performers, directors and producers appear including Peter Chan Lung, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Maria Cordero, Lam Ching-ying, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lowell Lo, Eric Tsang, Dick Wei, Manfred Wong Man-Chun, Corey Yuen, Mai Kei, Hsiao Hou, Yuen Tak, Chu Tau, and Ka Lee. See if you can spot them all!
Set on the streets of 1930’s Macau, Lo Tung and his friend Malted Candy are pedicab drivers. Lo Tung falls in love with Ping, who works in the bakery for a lecherous boss. Malted Candy falls for Hsaio Tsui, who works for the cruel gangster and brothel owner, Fifth Master.
The lovelorn pair must somehow find a way to win the ladies’ hearts and free them from their unpleasant bosses.
An Opening Neon-Lit Evening in Macau…
Opening with some nice crane and dolly shots of a neon-lit evening in Macau, I wonder if director Sammo Hung was trying to emulate what his old friend Jackie Chan was attempting to achieve with “Miracles”, which was released in the same year.
…Leads to a Standoff of Coolies vs Rickshaw Drivers
No one would question Sammo’s and Jackie’s exceptional abilities at delivering martial arts action, but their skills as cinematic directors are often overlooked, or worse, sometimes dismissed. The beautiful cinematography leads to a stand off between the coolies and the rickshaw drivers in a canteen.
A Real Who’s Who” of Hong Kong Film’s Best-Known Stars!
This is a real “Who’s Who” of some of Hong Kong film entertainment’s best-known stars. Imagine the casts of “Eastern Condors” and “Millionaires Express” all congregating in one scene! It’s a real testimony to Sammo Hung’s status as the “Biggest Brother” in the Hong Kong movie business.
Sammo Astonishes with Somersaults & Jumps Like a Teenage Gymnast!
Although the fighting is as tough as you would expect from a Sammo Hung film, there is plenty of humour thrown in. There is a spoof “lightsaber” duel, the classic defence against an eye poke is given a literal twist, and an attack with a couple of kettles of boiling water that will bring a tear to your eye! Sammo himself still manages to astonish by somersaulting, jumping, and generally throwing his burly body about like a teenage gymnast.
Dick Wei Convinces with His Energetic Fights
In a film of massive tonal shifts, our first jarring turn towards the darkness to come sees Hong Kong star Dick Wei defending his pregnant wife from Fifth Master’s thugs, consisting of three of the toughest screen fighters in the business; Billy Chow Bei-Lei, Eddie Maher and Cheung Fat. Wei is always energetic and convincing in his screen fights, and does not tarnish his record here.
Slighted by Tung, Fifth Master and his henchmen jump in their car and chase Tung’s pedicab. With Ping clinging on to Tung for dear life, they race through the picturesque streets of Macau. There are some less-than-convincing stunts, and it’s a sequence that I think would have been better suited to a Jackie Chan film. It does lead however to one of the highlights of the film.
Sammo Hung vs Lau Kar-Leung at Full Tilt!
Tung crashes into a gambling den, the boss of which is none other than the legend that is Lau Kar-Leung! By this stage in his career, Sammo tended to favour a more frantic, realistic style of choreography. Lau Kar-Leung always liked to show the traditional fighting applications of Chinese martial arts. What they both had in common though was making each strike look like it was full contact!
The duel is a fascinating blend of their respective strengths, both of them performing at full tilt. This is further enhanced when they fight each other with wooden poles. Both men are renowned for their weapons work, and this fight is a great example of why.
A Dark Twist & Furious Vengeance Finale
After some romance, a little melodrama, and even a love song, the film flips completely taking a shockingly violent, dark turn. The fighting is as brutal as you will probably ever see in a Sammo Hung film, sending Tung towards a finale of furious vengeance.
Full Contact Hits & Body Slams Galore!
If Sammo’s stunt team were paid by the bruise, they must have earned a small fortune for this film! The choreography is constantly punctuated by full contact hits or body slams into the floor and furniture.
Bill Chow is Great as One of the Hardest Screen Villains
Billy Chow becomes the main antagonist and once again delivers just as he has done so many times in his film career. Being a real-life kickboxing champion certainly hasn’t harmed him in becoming one of the hardest, meanest-looking screen villains in the world of martial arts movies!
As a result, Sammo ups his own level, incorporating plenty of knee and elbow strikes. It makes for one of the most bruising encounters he has ever committed to the screen.
This is yet another revisit to a film I haven’t seen since VHS was king, partly because “Pedicab Driver” has actually been quite a tricky film to get hold of in recent years.
Warner Bros. did finally release a DVD version as part of their “Warner Archive”, with decent picture quality, questionable subtitles, and no extras. It seems strange for a film that although flawed, is obviously in demand from fans of Hong Kong action movies, yet hasn’t been given the same treatment as other titles.
Not that this is the best movie in Sammo Hung’s hugely impressive and extensive filmography. Viewed purely as a film with a “beginning, a middle and an end”, it veers all over the place. The scenes lurch wildly from slapstick comedy to brutal violence, bad taste dramedy to furious revenge, or clichéd romance to a social commentary on hard-working people just trying to make a living.
The acting ranges from over-the-top from John Shum to award-worthy from Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying, in a rather under-written part. The rest of the main cast tend to deliver slightly melodramatic performances typical of older Hong Kong movies, although Sammo Hung does have some poignant moments.
What this film has in spades is some of the most energetic, full contact fighting you’ll see. You can almost feel every punch and kick to the face, and in fact some of the fists and feet are thrown right into the camera lens to accentuate that. The fight with Lau Kar-Leung makes absolutely no sense plot-wise, but who cares when it is this entertaining?
The quality of the action scenes make it easy to see why this quirky film, that couldn’t have been made anywhere else but 1980’s Hong Kong, is so often named by fans as one they would like to see re-released. The fact it’s quite tricky to get hold of a decent copy has also given it a bit of a “Holy Grail” quality too.
If you are lucky enough to find this film, check it out. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for the release of a well-served restoration!
- “These feet have put out many ghost fires and kicked a thousand rascals’ butts!” – Master Fong the Baker
- “Fatty, your thick head has hurt my foot!” – Casino Boss
- Although long out-of-print on VHS and Laser Disc, “Pedicab Driver” is available on DVD through the Warner Archive.
- At the 9th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards, it was the winner for “Best Original Song”, “Pang Jeuk Oi”, which translates as, “Relying on Love”. It was composed by Lowell Lo Koon-Ting who appears in the movie as “Shan Cha Cake”.