Probably named to cash in on the seemingly never ending series of British comedy films and originally released back in 1982, “Carry on Pickpocket” was Sammo Hung’s directorial follow up to his classic “Spooky Encounters”. The film is very much typical of the Hong Kong style of the period, being a crazed mix of several genres that throws pretty much everything imaginable at the screen to keep the viewer entertained, if perhaps somewhat bewildered. As well as directing and providing the action choreography, Sammo also takes one of the lead roles, for which he won one of his earliest Best Actor nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
The story follows Sammo as Rice Pot, a pickpocket who works the streets with his friend Chimney (Frankie Chan, who also starred with Sammo in his classic “The Prodigal Son”) under the tutelage of their master Kim (veteran actor Lau Sek Huen). Their lives become more complicated after Rice Pot meets and falls for undercover police officer Ling (Deannie Ip, also in the popular “Pom Pom” series), who persuades them to help her recover some stolen diamonds from a Triad boss named Chou (Chan Lung, another frequent Sammo co-star). Unfortunately, it soon transpires that Ling may not be telling the whole truth, and the two thieves find themselves in hot water, pursued by both the police and the gang.
Although the above synopsis may sound like that of a fairly straightforward action thriller, “Carry on Pickpocket” feels very much like several films rolled into one, starting as a wacky caper before heading into romantic comedy, police thriller, and finally into violent martial arts. This is by no means a problem, and is indeed very much par for the course, though the plot becomes increasingly convoluted through the running time and frequently feels rather random, at least for viewers unused to the madcap style of 1980s Hong Kong cinema.
As such, the best way to approach the film is to simply go with the flow, and to enjoy the excellent action scenes, which benefit from some superb choreography and which show Sammo at his best and most creative. Although initially the film is mainly based around slapstick and pratfalls, with a few standout and genuinely impressive stunts, it becomes progressively more hard hitting and violent, culminating in a bloody final battle complete with several surprisingly nasty shocks that are quite at odds with the happy go lucky feel of the earlier scenes. Sammo keeps things exciting throughout, and all other genres aside, the film certainly works well as a thriller.
The comedic aspects of the film also play an effective part, mainly due to the fact that the great chemistry between Sammo and Frankie Chan makes for plenty of amusing scenes. Sammo himself is on great form, adopting his usual bumbling persona whilst giving himself plenty of chances to show off his skills. Also adding to the fun is the always welcome Richard Ng, who turns up as a policeman trying to chase the pickpockets, though who seems to spend most of his time getting into ridiculous situations. The gags are mostly on target, with the expected clowning and pratfalls being underscored by some hilariously bizarre sound effects, and with Sammo showing his fondness for old Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin routines. Also present and correct is the air of leering sexuality so common in films of the period, with plenty of jokes revolving around women flashing their underwear or almost baring their breasts (amusingly, the same shot cleavage shot is used several times).
All of this adds up to a chaotic, though very entertaining mix, and “Carry on Pickpocket” is energetic fun from start to finish. Obviously a must-see for Sammo fans, although perhaps not as strong as some of his other works from the early 1980s, it nevertheless stands as a fast, furious and indeed fun piece of filmmaking.
Sammo Hung (director)
CAST: Frankie Chan … Chimney
Lung Chan … Chou Meng-Sheng
Sammo Hung Kam-Bo … Rice Pot
Richard Ng … Wu
Deannie Yip … Inspector Ling
Biao Yuen … Cameo