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San Diego Asian Film Festival 2013

SDAFF 2013: 7-UP, The Un-Cola — Un-Identified and Un-Beatable.

Posted November 9th, 2013 by Dr. Craig D. Reid in Uncategorized

When marketing against big wigs, 7-UP simply called themselves the Un-Cola, where front man Geoffrey Holder in a most beautiful Trinidadian twang proffered that cola is made from one nut but the un-cola is made from two nuts (lemon/lime), they’re bigger and juicier…he sips the drink…”marvelous, absolutely marvelous”…then fades into darkness with his patented haunting but hearty laugh.

Last night’s films, like 7-UP, soda-popped out of nowhere with more naturalness and less artificial ingredients in the guise of two underestimated achievements, Unidentified and Unbeatable that also featured two un-cola nuts in each film. Well, if you consider the full casts that would make for bags of mixed nuts…but there are two Eddie nuts around). Point is, they’re both refreshing, one is carbonated creepy, the other sweetly hypodermic.

Directed by Jason Miller, Unidentified was originally supposed to be a happy go lucky three friend gambling trip to Vegas, Jeremy (Parry Shen), Nick (Eddie Mui) and road trip videographer Jodie (Eric Artelle), who at the request of Nick’s wife filmed the “vacation” for fear of Nick’s Pete Rose-itis getting the best of him, turns out to be a trip of four friends. Apparently during casting Mui and Shen were enamored with actor Colton Dunn and thus Dave was added to the motley crew.

However, after a run in with leader of a mysterious illegal game of high stakes poker (an absolutely laudable Truman Capote-esque portrayal by Down Syndrome actor Blair Williamson), the UFO crap hits the fan and splatters all of its remains on the video camera stuck on record.

Break out the homemade video precipice as Blair Alien Project comes to town, with whispers, screams, wide-eyed, fear induced gawks arising from facing the unknown, and enough earthquake cam to make like the San Andreas fault is going to make Las Vegas beach front property. But it’s no fault that Shen and Mui, have gotten a gang of good pals and actors together to make what looks like a boring, innocent road trip film that perhaps is a bit too slow in the beginning and takes its time to get cracking.

Its as if the excitement of going on a cool “never-been-there-before” vacation, where the intentions of getting up early and leaving at 6:00 am ends up with a 10:00 am departure because the morning dragged on and now everything is painfully behind schedule.

After all the huffing and puffing and arguing about whose fault it is for leaving late…once you hit the road, drive past the unabashed scenery, and the closer you get to where you’re going, the fun and excitement returns in flurries as the storm of the prior crap dissipates.

At the end of the journey all that remain are the memorable experiences and an enjoyable film filled with surprises, alien abductions, glowing red orbs, and a craze freakazoid filled detour into the blank as black night desert. OMG…we’re not alone and what’s out there in the Nevada desert is not just THEM (large ants) but ET’s with an attitude.

Just as the Ip Man film craze is coming to an end in Hong Kong, which basically translates to no more Ip Man films worldwide, the MMA movie craze also seem to have run its course, especially in Hollywood.  So  what better way is there to add an exclamation point to the final chapter of the MMA martial arts movie genre than with this year’s all time, top grossing MMA influenced Hong Kong clout-a-bout, the multi-award winning, Dante Lam directed Unbeatable (2013).

In Unbeatable, Lam moves away from his Inferno namesake and keeps things out of the dark with a unexpected humane drama mixture of blood, sweat, and tears calmed by laughter, snickers and bravado chest swelling notions of filial piety, redemption and hope.

It’s a tri-story movie with three endings but on different levels, a unified victory.

There’s the handsome young lad Lin Si-qi (Eddie Peng) who upon his return to Beijing from a cycling trip to Southern China is plunged into turmoil with millionaire father now depressed and penniless. The former boxing champion now middle-aged and relegated to being a small time cabbie Ching “scumbag” Fai (Nick Cheung) also owes Hong Kong triads tons of money lost via gambling debts. Fai runs away to Macao and ends up bording with a single delusional mother Ming Jun (Mei Ting), raising a scruffy lovable 10-year old daughter Pui Dan (Crytal Lee), the only thing keeping Ming Jun’s world together after being dumped by the husband and due to her alcoholism, feels responsible for drowning her son.

Their needing money lives converge upon Macao’s Golden Rumble MMA tournament that features a HK$2 million prize, certainly a way out for each to balance their lives. But it’s not the money that brings balance but the carefully crafted Lam interrelationships, brotherhood and the emotional glue that pieces the families back together.

As is standard for all MMA movies  and typical in many kung fu films of old, there are the requisite training sequences as we see the heroic fighters with great dedication and pain, improve their skills in ready for the battles ahead. But these fights aren’t about revenge anymore, but about doing something to help others overcome what they are unable to do in life.

What’s most refreshing about the fights is that not only is there no revenge factor but also for a Chinese film, there is no villainous fighter, no evil foreigner MMA man trying to prove they are superior to Asians, and no evil named opponent…like Drago, Killing Machine Max, The Russian Executioner…that everyone and their pet cat are afraid of thus the anticipated final showdown. Each bout brings out emotional reprieves that with the expected pugilistic climax of victory there is also the defeat of all the angst that the three families are facing…making that four victories.

For those of you who know of one of the most famous kung fu film directors of the 1970s, Chang Cheh, the male bonding of his heroes, the brotherhood of their heroic bloodshed was an essential and recurring thematic device behind many of his best martial arts movies. What I also like about Unbeatable is this same notion of brotherhood between mentor Ching and student Lin, a reminder that a good kung fu film never dies.