Pedicab Driver (1989) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Pedicab Driver (1989)

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Pedicab Driver, originally released on laser disc in 1989, follows the overweight Lo Tung (Sammo Hung) and his lean friends though their struggle to find love and live their lives in peace on the busy streets of Macao.

Pedicab Driver is a movie feels juvenile and clumsy at times, and there are certainly a couple of scenes which do little to advance the plot, and yet, for the patient viewer there are extremely moving and deep characters. At the very least, there are some extremely impressive fight scenes both at the start and end of the film.

As with most Chinese kung-fu films, it does help to have some knowledge of Chinese culture in order to fully appreciate a few of the jokes which would otherwise fly over most Western heads, but such knowledge is certainly not a requirement to enjoy this movie. Much of the humor is farcical and slapstick in nature which, depending on your taste, may or may not amuse you. There are several excellent lines, and there's even a brief 'tip of the hat' to E.T. about half an hour into the film.

There is a strong romantic element to the film that is not overbearing of the action, but because of the romance I feel it important to inform those of you who are unfamiliar with Asian culture, that most titles (like brother, sister, father) are honorific, not familial. In the same way that you may call a friend buddy, gal, or sir, in Asia they will likely call someone brother, sister, or father. I point this out only so that you are not horrified to see people flirting with their 'sister' or such.

If you have the same version of the movie as I do, its audio is in Chinese and has hard-coded subtitles in white in both Chinese and English at the bottom of the screen, which for some viewers may prove awkward. This is a common occurrence with the older kung-fu films and can't be helped in most cases, but I rarely found the subtitles bothersome or misleading (due to strange translations). If you are relatively new to 'classic' kung-fu films, or any foreign films for that matter, I’m afraid that poorly translated subtitles is something you may have to learn to live with. In this case, however, I was glad to find the English subtitles fairly accurate and comprehensible.

The majority of this film is easily accessible, but not suitable for the easily offended or minors. It certainly holds no punches with the characters, and the bad guys are clearly evil while the good guys stick up for their friends.

Perhaps the best example of this would be the following paraphrase, which is also my favorite line from this film “If the baby is a boy, dump it in the river. If it's a girl, take it to the brothel”. Truly this character is an excellent example of the embodiment of wickedness, which is both rare and interesting when compared to more modern films, not to mention refreshingly straightforward.

Those who are familiar with Sammo Hung's movies will certainly recognize a few faces as the leading roles, which for the most part is pleasing. I say 'for the most part' because the Casino Boss, played by Lau Kar-Leung who is a legend in the industry, is not used as well as he might have been. The casino fight scene itself is truly incredible, particularly for enthusiasts of the genre, yet if the casino boss had also reappeared for the final fight scene, it would have made the film's story stronger, and the casino boss character's existence more purposeful. Yet that was not the case, and as a result the casino boss character feels superfluous to the story, somewhat derailing the story's otherwise intriguing exploration of love and friendship in the face of extraordinary difficulties.

Regarding the action scenes as a whole, they are both beautifully done and incredible to behold. The opening fight scene which is just a few minutes into the film has some genuinely funny moments and displays fighting skills of all levels, from inept to stunning, not just super-hero level fighting. The camera work is strong and focused firmly on the action, which is a-typical for many earlier kung fu films which frequently had much of the action happening at the edge of the screen due to slow cameramen. The choreography is excellent throughout the movie, with well timed peaks and respites during the fight scenes, giving the viewer time to absorb and appreciate every drop of action.

For those in the audience watching Pedicab Driver for its romantic elements, there is definitely plenty of satisfying intrigue. During the outdoor restaurant dinner date (about one hour in) is perhaps some of the best screen acting I've ever seen, and far more immersive than any of the big TV-dramas (such as "Dallas", "90210", "EastEnders", and "Home and Away").

From start to finish, Pedicab Driver's action scenes are glorious to watch and will not leave you disappointed, nor will the romantic elements. However the comedic aspects may let you down as they are a little lewd and juvenile. Although this film has a few small failings, it is certainly worth watching and adding to your kung fu film collection if you can.

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Posted by Andrew

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