Synopsis: After moving to Macau, a former world champion boxer (Nick Cheung) becomes a mentor to a young MMA fighter (Eddie Peng).
Boxing tropes get MMA makeover.
Cheung soars in a role that requires the aging actor to make a remarkable physical transformation
This slick sports drama transfers some well-worn boxing movie clichés to the cage-match carnage of Mixed Martial Arts, but writer/director Dante Lam still has a master’s touch when it comes to staging action and handling sentiment.
Lam introduces his three key players in a deft pre-credit sequence, indicating that the director is in a far more playful mood than he has been of late (The Viral Factor, The Stool Pigeon). Returning from a cycling holiday in Yunnan, handsome young man Lin Si Qi (Eddie Peng) revisits Beijing to find his life in turmoil and his father penniless and depressed. Small-time cabbie Ching ‘Scumbag’ Fai (Nick Cheung), his pugilistic glory days behind him, is in crippling debt to Hong Kong thugs and must flee to Macau where he takes a lowly job at the boxing gym owned by his old mate, Tai Sui (Philip Keung). Fai boards with single mum Mingjun (Mei Ting), her own life in pieces after a failed marriage and the death of her infant son; feisty 10-year-old Leung Pui Dan (a wonderful Crystal Lee) is charged with providing for her melancholic mother. With every character in need of cash, the HK$2million prize money on offer from the Golden Rumble MMA event brings them all together in a completely predictable yet entirely compelling climax.
Cheung has proved a winning presence in Lam’s previous works (his sociopath in Beast Stalker is a standout) and soars in a role that requires the aging actor to make a remarkable physical transformation to ensure the narrative remains believable (he and his diminutive co-star Lee won actor and actress honours at the recent Shanghai International Film Festival). Taiwanese actor Peng is heartthrob material, engaging and ripped in equal measure and ably capturing that ‘Rocky/Mickey’ student/mentor chemistry with Cheung (though the running gag about sneaking a cheeky kiss during the close-quarters training sessions is a bit odd).
The film is shot in warm, sunny hues and strong colours by Lam’s regular cinematographer, Kenny Tse (stepping up after his recent lacklustre effort, Badges of Fury); Tse captures the people and places of the territory with an affectionate and vibrant ambience, which generally reflects the overall tone. A third act detour into unexpected real-life violence and custody issues does derail the feel-good vibe, though only momentarily.
Other applaudable efforts come from action choreographer Ling Chi-wah and MMA consultant Henry Chan, who ensured the hits and kicks were authentically realised, and the sound effects team that brought to life the crunching brutality of the bloody slugfests.
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