[Last Film I Saw] Unbeatable (2013)

Unbeatable 2013

English Title: Unbeatable
Chinese Title: Ji Zhan
Year: 2013
Country: China, Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese
Genre: Action, Drama
Director: Dante Lam
Writers:
Chi-Fung Fung
Dante Lam
Wai Lun Ng
Candy Leung
Cast:
Nick Cheung
Eddie Peng
Ting Mei
Crystal Lee
Andy On
Feier Li
Jack Kao
Patrick Keung
Keng Hung Liu
Baoqiang Wang
Awayne
Michelle Lo
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 fighting, summons a pan-Chinese cast (Cheung, On and Keung are from Hong Kong, Peng, Kao and Liu are from Taiwan, Mei, Li and Wang are from mainland China while youngster Lee is from Malaysia), it also imposes a daunting challenge for two leads Nick Cheung and Eddie Peng, especially for Cheung, 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, Peng is to prove himself in front of his life-beaten and alcohol-abusing father and Cheung is to reinitiate 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 pre-fighting training sequences). The entanglement between Cheung and a pair of mother-daughter (Mei, a single mother who is mentally unstable due to a past trauma and Lee, her premature 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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