Fai, who was once a world champ in boxing, escapes to Macau from loan sharks in an attempt to start a new life. He moves in with a young girl who takes care of her mother who suffers from severe PSTD. Having only known a life within a gym, he soon finds himself working as a class instructor at the local gym, where he teaches an exercise class to some older women. However, his reputation precedes him, and he is approached by the young Qi, who is looking to get into MMA.

Unbeatable is screening at the 17th New York Asian Film Festival

Fai begins to train Qi to enter into an MMA tournament with the help of other specialists at the gym. Putting himself in the spotlight as a cornerman becomes a misstep when the loan sharks are able to track him down. With his young protege struggling in the tournament and tragedy striking the family he was living with due to his actions, Fai decides to re-enter the ring in order to redeem himself.

As a long time fan of MMA, I have noticed that one of the bigger differences between western and eastern organizations is that in the Asian leagues there is a greater focus on fighter narrative. With fighters on both the main and undercard often having their struggles and sacrifices to make it into the ring a primary feature within each event. “Unbeatable” does a good job at covering the sentiments of Asian MMA and its fan base. This respect for the narrative also carries over into the action sequences, which bypass sensationalism for a more realistic view of the technicalities of the sport.

The fighting choreography and training sequences feel like they come from a legitimate love for the sport. This level of sincerity towards its subject matter is the driving force behind the production. However, this approach does hinder the overall entertainment value of the production, since, at a running length of about two hours, there is not much in the way of fighting, which although makes sense within the narrative, it does not really deliver as an action film. Instead, the film focuses heavily on drama and the struggles of its characters for a majority of the run time. Looking at the film as a drama, it is a bit dry and slow-paced, and although it is able to fit in some good dramatic moments, the majority of the film feels rather padded. The slow pacing becomes apparent with a strong shift in the story within the last few moments, which causes some of the early plot points to seem rather purposeful.

Visually the movie manages to stay engaging, especially during the MMA matches which capture the realism of the sport while still utilizing a lot of different camera techniques to complement the action scenes and give them more of a cinematic style. The audio is also top notch, adding to the sense of realism within the sport, the gyms and are all sound like they are real venues, filled with athletes and fans. The score, although not really noteworthy on its own, works well within the story, and utilizes different genres to capture the mood.

Nick Cheung gives a stand out performance as Ching Fai and carries a sincere charm into his troubled character. By comparison, the rest of the cast falls a bit flat. In particular, I found Ting Mai’s character to bring down the mood, while her character, although understandably flawed given her past, has a weakness to her that almost hinges on the absurd. This seems to be more of a product of the script not really capturing the nuances of mental health struggles and less a statement on her acting abilities. Thankfully, the film seems to realize its star in Nick Cheung and does a good job of keeping the narrative focused on him.

“Unbeatable” exemplifies the fighting spirit, in a realistic fashion which will win over not just fans of MMA, but those who admire the inner strength it takes to compete at high-level competition in sports. As an action film and drama, it does leave a bit to be desired and I did find myself getting a bit impatient with the overall production. It still acts as a showcase for Dante Lam’s talents as a director, and specifically on a technical level his talent really shines through.

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