In a cinematic landscape saturated with martial arts films, the Unbeatable is a movie from 2013 that successfully rises above the rest.
The story revolves around two compelling characters: Ching Fai, an almost 50-year-old former MMA champion, and Lin Si Qi, a young aspiring fighter.
Both are flawed individuals seeking redemption, but their paths to salvation are as different as their backgrounds.
Ching Fai’s life descends into chaos after intentionally losing a match, becoming a fugitive from the Triads and taking refuge in Macau.
On the other hand, Lin is the son of a famous singer who has squandered his fortune and succumbed to alcoholism.
Their worlds collide at a gym where Fai is a trainer and motivator for a happy group of older women.
Lin enters the same gym eager to train for a major tournament with a $2 million prize; still, none of the masters believe in his potential.
Meanwhile, Fai finds a home with a young girl named Pei Dan and her psychologically traumatized mother, Ming Jun.
Ming Jun is emotionally crippled by the death of Pei Dan’s younger brother, leaving the child to take on the responsibilities of an adult.
The lives of these characters change dramatically when Fai and Lin decide to cooperate, after initial and mutual skepticism, agreeing to aim for victory and split the lucrative tournament prize in half.
However, climbing out of the abyss their lives have ended up in is no easy feat, but having a common goal gives them a reason to fight and believe in themselves after so long.
Before long, Lin became famous among martial arts enthusiasts because of his courage and stamina, but the most challenging test awaited him after a terrible injury.
Losing is not the same as being a loser
Crafted with solid writing and directed by the skillful cinematic hand of Dante Lam, Unbeatable is a 2013 movie where the Hong Kong director employs all his skill behind the camera to create a blend of drama and action that never lets the tension drop.
Just as the personal and family drama is well-written and developed, the fight scenes are brutal and violent and push Lin’s endurance to the extreme. The film does not shy away from the harsh realities of the sport, nor does it gloss over the emotional complexities of its characters.
Attention to detail is evident not only in the personal relationships of these outsiders, capturing moments of joy, pain, luck, and misfortune, but also in the intricacies of the fight scenes. Here, the film dwells on the techniques of striking and escaping from an opponent’s iron grip, offering a spectacular yet realistic depiction of mixed martial arts.
Each scene offers subtle nuances, adding layers of complexity and empathy for these two fighters, young and older. Both are flawed, troubled, but determined to shatter others’ belief that they are just hopeless failures.
Dante Lam teaches us a lesson reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone‘s old Rocky: the most crucial aspect of fighting is not the force with which you strike, but how much you can take the blows. And most importantly, when you end up on the mat—as inevitably happens to everyone—do you have the strength to get back up?
In short, Unbeatable is a compelling blend of visceral action and emotional depth, making it one of the most interesting martial arts films. The story resonates on multiple levels, reminding us that fighting is often as much about the inside as the outside.
A cast of few but good
The successful collaboration between Nick Cheung and Dante Lam continues to flourish in Unbeatable, which joins a slate of solid films such as The Beast Stalker, a crime drama that blurs the lines between good and evil. Much of the emotional weight of Unbeatable rests on the shoulders of Cheung, who is supported by the charming young actress Crystal Lee.
Lee plays a little girl who is essentially her mother’s mother, played by the talented Ting Mei. This small family ecosystem, full of joys and sudden outbursts of anger and despair, finds a semblance of balance when Cheung’s defeated former boxer character enters their lives.
In contrast, but equally deteriorated, is the life of Lin, played by the athletic Eddie Peng. He handles the film’s martial action’s more spectacular aspects, showcasing an enviable physique and excellent MMA technique. However, Lin also has his dramatic moments, especially with his alcoholic father, played convincingly by Jack Kao.
Kao’s character never supports his son but rather humiliates him -and himself- by constantly reminding Lin that he is a failure. However, like all the characters in this film, he finds a chance for redemption and an opportunity to put his unfortunate past behind him.
As you can see, there are not too many characters after all: it is essentially a fusion of two family stories and a personal sports epic quest.