"Ultimately, this film is like watching Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, it may not have too big of a budget but it's certainly big on artistry!"
- Joseph Kuby
The Unbeaten 28 (1981)
AKA: Unbeatable 28
Director: Joseph Kuo
Cast: Meng Fei, Jack Long, Mark Long
Running Time: 90 min.
Plot: See review below.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: Carter Wong may have proved to be better than usual in 18 Bronzemen but this film has a more talented actor as the lead - Meng Fei, who had appeared in the Shaw Brothers Chang Cheh-directed classics Five Shaolin Masters and Shaolin Temple (not the Jet Li one). Chang took note of this film and released his own version of the Kung Fu maze story with four of the Venoms. His take on it is called House of Traps.
The Unbeatable 28 is what would happen if you came upon a concoction of Indiana Jones and 36th Chamber of Shaolin. The film's budget was higher than usual for producer/director Joseph Kuo. He had more money to materialize his vision due to his previous independent successes. His company was a rival to Seasonal in the same way Golden Harvest were competing with Shaw Bros.
There's so much creativity abundant in the storyline that there are no stand-outs, nearly everything is worth a mention. The action is so consistent that it's not really a case of picking scenes since the whole movie is one big action sequence. To understand what this film is, imagine if two thirds of the running time of My Lucky Stars was dedicated to Jackie Chan journeying through the theme park and encountering dozens of bewildering oddities.
A lot of fans might dismiss this film as a poor spin-off of 18 Bronzemen but I see it as the next step forward in Kuo's original concept. Just like how Jackie's Operation Condor surpassed Armour of God, Kuo did the same thing here. The Unbeatable 28 is one of the few films that is truly the cinematic equivalent to a roller-coaster. There may be some slow spots but roller-coasters have those too. Rather than the sedate moments being a detriment to the film, it works in its advantage as the surreal moments pack a weighty punch.
The final two on one showdown is one of the best of its kind I've seen, which is saying a lot when you consider the 2-on-1s that can be seen in Knockabout, Secret Rivals, The Odd Couple, Who Am I? and Warriors Two. The villain uses a hat like a boomerang - something which surely must have inspired the creators of the Mortal Kombat games when they were creating the character of Kung Lao.
As you can tell, I had a lot of fun watching this movie! What I like about this film is that it never takes itself too seriously despite having a an air of dread that permeates the film. It has a subtle tongue-in-cheek tone which makes you wonder if Kuo was lampooning the novelty concept of the Shaolin training tradition.
The Unbeatable 28 is truly unpredictable, just when you think its over...something happens that furthers the movie along! Ultimately, this film is like watching Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, it may not have too big of a budget but it's certainly big on artistry. Coincidentally, Joseph also shows an aptitude for directing horror movies as this film has a sense of impending doom that's produced by the mysterious atmosphere he creates. It's a shame that Unbeatable 28 would prove to be one of his last films.
As a footnote, the title should really be The Unbeatable 18 as a typo was made when it came to producing the English title for the film.
JOSEPHY KUBY'S RATING: 8/10