Pedicab Driver (1989)
Director: Sammo Hung
Writers: Barry Wong
Starring: Sammo Hung, Max Mok, Nina Li, Billy Chow, and Lau Kar Leung

The Plot: Pedicab Driver is a story with several plots all sorta happening at once. Fat Tung (Sammo Hung) and Malted Candy (Max Mok) play two great friends who are both pedicab drivers. Malted Candy is more light hearted and good natured, while Fat Tung has a bit more grit to his persona. Regardless, the duo are a pretty silly pair. Fat, after some pratfalls, falls in love with a young woman who is working as an apprentice for an ornery old baker. The baker also has eyes for the same lady, and what follows is a very strange love triangle. Candy, however, falls in love with a girl named Ping who he randomly meets while driving his pedicab. Ping seems sweet, innocent, and has a personality that perfectly fits with Candy. There’s one problem that stands in his way: she’s a prostitute who works for a brutal brothel owner. When Candy finally discovers this fact, he has issues with it, but decides that this girl is worth it. The only problem is that the owner of her brothel isn’t willing to let her go.

The Review
Although I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable guy when it comes to both the martial arts genre, as well as Asian cinema in general, I still have noticeable holes in my game. There are still so many films I haven’t seen and so many film genres that I have not explored. Like many of those reading this, I consider myself knowledgeable in many areas but a master of none. This is of course a designation that has its positives and its negatives. As a positive, no one expects me to have all of the information on any one genre… and thank goodness for that. The negative side of this comes in a lack of clear position within the world of film geekdom, but the only thing ever hurt by this is my ego. I suppose another way to look at this would be that the true positive about this predicament is that my mission is still very open. There are still numerous classic films out there that I have never seen and they are still open to be discovered by me. This is where Pedicab Driver comes in. Beloved by some, disliked by others, it is a film from Sammo Hung’s filmography that has always eluded me despite the fact that it is very well known. With Kung Fu Christmas taking place, now seemed to be the perfect time to give it a shot.

Despite everything that can be said about Pedicab Driver, it’s hard to imagine someone calling it boring. Sure, it may not be the most action packed film from this era, but it is a movie that has something new or different happening within every scene. This actually ends up creating a slightly uneven vibe, but most of the gags work well enough that it obscures some of this. In one of the most bizarre moments in the movie, Sammo directs a Star Wars spoof at the beginning of the film with two fighters battling it out using fleurescant light tubes in the place of lightsabers. This gag stands out because few other moments completely forget the period-setting or go for such an outlandish gag, but in this one scene Sammo went for it. Later on, there are other classic gags such as Sammo’s pedicab being driven at a 90-degree angle and plenty of google eyes from the expected silly character, but mixed in with all of this over the top humor is an emotionally driven subplot as well as some typically violent choreography.

Without meaning any offense to the fans out there, Hong Kong melodrama can be a real pain to try and sit through. For my tastes, it is often very cliche and taken far over-the-top. While Pedicab Driver is guilty of implementing many of these poor traits, the reasoning behind the melodrama sits very well with me. There are some true human touches found in the story of Ping and Malted Candy (Max Mok). There are many cliches at work in this subplot focusing on a hooker with a heart of gold, but the small nuances of the characters are what makes this small arc work so well. The arguments between Ping and Malted Candy seem very realistic and the performances, when Max Mok isn’t going absolutely over-the-top, can be quite touching. The film dances between bluntly serious drama and goofy humor, but the resulting mix works well in a rather ludicrous way.

Action is of course an integral part of any martial arts film, and Pedicab Driver does have some standout sequences. In what is probably the standout fight sequence from the film, we get Lau Kar Leung vs. Sammo Hung in a very impressive battle. The scene shows two masters of the genre, one from the days of old and the other being a young talent progressing the art, working together in order to do something new. The scene between Leung and Hung isn’t so much a passing of the torch though, instead it stands out as a very exciting scene between two greats doing everything that makes them special. Unfortunately, the action does take a backseat for the majority of the film. There is much more focus on story, comedy, and drama. The one guaranteed plot device that will provide action throughout the feature is the brewing antagonism between our main protagonists and the local gangsters who run the brothel businesses. This story seems as if it will develop early, during a sequence that shows a very brief faceoff between Fatty (Sammo Hung) and these criminals. Yet, shortly after this sequence, the crime lord angel is forgotten right up until around the final twenty minutes of the movie. While the movie should certainly be appreciated for doing something different, the final concluding action setpieces seem to lack much resonance because they almost seem to come from out of nowhere.

The Conclusion
The plot sorta meanders around, with several subplots forming a loose story, but the movie makes the most of its fast and loose style. If anything, the movie hinges on the most fun aspects that the martial arts genre has to provide: charismatic personalities, intricate fight choreography, and ridiculous stunts that seem as if they shouldn’t be physically possible – much less legal. Pedicab Driver probably isn’t the ideal movie to throw on for an uninitiated audience, but it is certainly a movie that stands as a nice early introduction to both the new wave of Hong Kong action movies as well as the particular style of cinema that Sammo hung brought to the table. Indeed, Sammo certainly had a pervasive style that was all his own, and it can be easily seen in the comedy and action that Pedicab Driver brings to the table. Overall, I give it a positive four out of five. This is one that is absolutely worth owning.