Movie review: Unbeatable

Review Action drama
121 minutes/Opens on 15th August/Rating: 3.5/5

The story: Former Hong Kong boxing champion Ching Fai (Nick Cheung) flees to Macau to escape nasty debt collectors. There, he rents a room in the flat of a mentally unstable mother (Mei Ting) and her daughter Dani (Crystal Lee). While working as a part-time boxing instructor at a local gym, he meets and trains Siqi (Eddie Peng) for an upcoming mixed martial arts championships. If the story sounds familiar, that is because it is.

This is another uplifting movie about sidelined pugilists who prove their worth through their fights. In recent years, there were two critically acclaimed dramas along the same lines: Warrior (2011), starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, and The Fighter (2010), which won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Christian Bale.

Here, both fighters at the centre of the story have different motivations for joining a mixed martial arts championship - and both reasons are completely cliched.

Siqi is a directionless rich kid who wants to prove to his alcoholic father (Jack Kao) that he can accomplish something in his life.

Ching Fai is a fallen boxing champion and former convict who is motivated to care for the impoverished mother-daughter pair he comes to live with. His interactions with the little girl are compelling, mostly because young Malaysian actress Crystal Lee is so convincingly feisty and vulnerable at the same time.

You would know where this movie is going, but Cheung and Peng turn in splendid enough performances that it remains consistently moving.

The two actors also share an easy chemistry, resulting in a number of light, comedic moments between them that you wish there were more of.

In one scene, Siqi accidentally pecks Ching Fai on the lips during a fight practice, leaving the latter aghast and embarrassed. It could have been a corny scene except that the pair banter about it so easily afterwards that it feels uncontrived.

The fights are competently shot by acclaimed action director Dante Lam, who had previously also directed Cheung in the gritty hits The Beast Stalker (2008) and The Stool Pigeon (2010).

Squeamish audiences, be warned the movie is visceral, with bone crunching, shoulders dislocating and heads smashing into the ground.

But what hurts Unbeatable is the string of unnecessary sub-plots that dislocates the film from its groove. Some of the scenes between Ching Fai and the increasingly unstable mother are especially redundant.

Siqi's love interest Coco, played by Chinese actress Li Feier, feels less like a real character essential to the plot than a casting decision to satisfy Chinese investors.

Had such distractions been given a knock-out punch, the film, an entertaining if standard sports flick, would have stayed on its feet more.


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