Director: Dante Lam
Writer: Dante Lam, Jack Ng
Producer: Candy Leung
Cast: Nick Cheung, Eddie Peng, Mei Ting, Feier Li, Andy On, Patrick Keung, Wang Baoqiang, Liu Kim Wa, Awayne
Running Time: 122 min.
Here’s a movie that I would say truly cements Dante Lam as one of the leading Hong Kong filmmakers at the moment and that will push his filming skills further if he’s given the right material and the ideas to succeed again. What he has done here was create a story that is put together and emphasized in a way he’s never done before and thereby outdoing his previous works, including his break-out movie The Beast Stalker.
One might be more interested in the MMA aspect surrounding the movie. But if anything, it’s the story and character chemistries between the main characters that make this movie very successful. From Nick Cheung’s interaction with rookie Eddie Peng, and trainer/best friend Philip Keung to traumatized mother Mei Ting and her kid girl Crystal Lee. Then you also have a subplot involving Eddie Peng and his father Jack Kao, as well as the mother jeopardizing herself to get institutionalized and separated from her only kid she has left due to her depression to boost the emotional aspect of the character development and it works.
This is Nick Cheung’s show though. The guy has come a long way and has recently proven to be a fine leading man in his own right and keeps going forward and getting better at his game. The character development between him and the mother/kid was the strongest part of the dramatic side of the movie. I’d go my way and say that without this, the movie would’ve been another sports movie with conventional everything that has become the norm nowadays. Also kudos to Mei Ting and especially child actress Crystal Lee for conveying their acting performances so exceptionally well.
Action-wise, I liked what they did with the MMA although it wasn’t overwhelming nor something new as far as MMA onscreen goes. Lots of techniques, details, logic etc that indicates that Lam has done his research on the sport. On the other hand, I think there were some moments of flashy movements that made me think “shouldn’t there be little flash and more authenticity as far as MMA goes?”.
Plus the camerawork and editing – while being creative and fresh at times – was also a bit bugging as you can’t really see or imagine what’s going on due to odd angles and alignment of each shots. It’s not surprising though, given the fact that the action was staged by Ling Chi-Wah, who regularly works as an action choreographer in Yuen Woo Ping’s stunt team. Nevertheless, they deliver in the action department featuring entertaining training sequences and fight scenes.
Andy On’s moments were the highlight to me, and I can see why they keep hiring him for upcoming action movies. The downside to On’s role is that his character shows up toward the second half as the random champion of Macau. This to me didn’t serve much to the story and makes his character the weakest out of all other ones.
Verdict: Everyone who likes good touchy stories/character mash-ups with entertaining action sprinkled in between should definitely see this. I’d say it’s up there with Drug War as one of the best Hong Kong movies made in 2013. Highly recommended!
DiP’s Rating: 9/10