[Film Review] Unbeatable (2013)

Unbeatable 2013

English Title: Unbeatable
Chinese Title: Ji Zhan 激战
Year: 2013
Country: China, Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese
Genre: Action, Drama
Director: Dante Lam 林超贤
Fung Chi-fung 冯志丰
Dante Lam 林超贤
Ng Wai-lun 吴炜伦
Candy Leung 梁凤英
Music: Henry Lai 黎允文
Cinematography: Kenny Tse 谢忠道
Nick Cheung 张家辉
Eddie Peng 彭于晏
Mei Ting 梅婷
Crystal Lee 李馨巧
Andy On 安志杰
Li Feier 李菲儿
Jack Kao 高捷
Philip Keung 姜皓文
Will Liu 刘畊宏
Wang Baoqiang 王宝强
A-Wei 刘俊纬
Noel Leung 梁小冰
Michelle Lo 卢觅雪
Stephan Ou 欧锦棠
Rating: 7.0/10

Watch this latest MMA action film in theater, Hong Kong director Dante Lam has a sturdy reputation in his action-packed thrillers in recent years (THE VIRAL FACTOR 2012, THE STOOL PIGEON 2010, BEAST STALKER 2008), this time around, he opts for another kind of action, the point-blank MMA combat, summons a pan-Chinese cast (Nicky Cheung, Andy On and Philip Keung are from Hong Kong, Eddie Peng, Jack Kao and Will Liu are from Taiwan, Mei Ting, Li Feier and Wang Baoqiang are from Mainland China whereas child actress Crystal Lee is from Malaysia), it also imposes a daunting physical challenge for two leads Nick and Eddie to condition themselves to a protean fighter physique, especially for the former, at the age of 47 he works extremely hard to gain a brawny figure to play the washed-out former boxing champion.

There aren’t a glut of hot-blooded hand-to-hand combats (4 is the exact time), instead Lam and his screen writer team manage to consolidate the context of these two fighters’ characteristic backdrop stories and furthermore justify their own causes to fight, Eddie is to prove himself in front of his life-beaten and alcohol-abusing father and Nicky is to renew his own potentiality and farewell to his squandered youth. Those are the perpetual themes of sport films, they are soul-inspiring and heart-touching at their best, but over-elaborated and shortchanged for its pragmatism at their worst. Other than the white-knuckle combats in the cage, which has been recorded faithfully with swift and precise camerawork to achieve the sensational verisimilitude (and very impressive training sequences). The entanglement between Nicky and a mother-daughter pair (Mei Ting, a single mother who is mentally unstable after smitten by a past trauma and Crystal Lee, a precocious daughter whose Pollyannaish nature under an impoverished situation does strike a chord to any soul with a tender spot) occupies the majority of the narrative, the function of main female characters in the male-driven genre always recedes to either a frail victim (Mei) or a redeeming touch of guilelessness (Lee), the shackles need to be innovated, yet it is a long way ahead.

UNBEATABLE is a strong contender in next year’s Hong Kong Film Awards (along with Johnnie To’s BLIND DETECTIVE 2013), they represent the caliber of the technique peak and the liberation of telling a story without pampering audiences’ ostensible reactions from an art form’s cheap face value, which is far more self-aware and less money-seeking than most of the players in the over-bloating Chinese film market nowadays.

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