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THE UNBEATEN 28 - Meng Fei fights stone men to become a kung fu master
Taiwanese-based writer-producer-director Joseph Kuo (EIGHTEEN BRONZEMEN and its sequels) had a fondness for kung fu films that put their heroes-in-training through elaborate tests involving a series of chambers and corridors adorned with rigged traps and mechanical opponents. THE UNBEATEN 28 came somewhat late in the game and lacks some of the energy, visual imagination and narrative tension that distinguished so many of Kuo's earlier films.
Kuo's EIGHTEEN BRONZEMEN star, Carter Wong, is replaced here by Meng Fei (PRODIGAL BOXER) who is cast as Wu Shao Tung, the Wutang Clan heir who undergoes rigorous instruction by Master Yung (Jack Long of 7 GRANDMASTERS and BORN INVINCIBLE). The goal is to prepare the lad for a match with villain Yen Chan Tin (Mark Long, the "Ghost-Faced Killer" from MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING/aka NINJA CHECKMATE), who'd killed Shao Tung's parents and Master Yung's wife and students.
Shao Tung's training starts at infancy (after Master Yung has rescued him and taken him into hiding). The bulk of the action focuses on Shao Tung's struggles to pass the test of 18 Obstacles at Tai Shin Temple. Many of the obstacles involve lumbering stone men who seem unbeatable until Shao Tung is able to find their weak spots. (The stone men replace the flashier mechanical gold men of the BRONZEMEN films, reflecting perhaps a reduction in budget.) He also has to fight a heavily made-up little madman who attacks in a variety of eccentric animal-based kung fu styles (bull, rooster, rat and monkey). Shao Tung's first two attempts to pass the test result in failure, but he later succeeds and, aided by Master Yung's daughter, Lin Erh (Jeannie Chang), goes on to fight Yen in a furious hand-to-hand battle in the Taiwanese countryside.
Other than a fight between Yen and Master Wu (Shao Tung's father) under the opening credits and the climactic battle with Yen at the end, there are no extended fights between enemies, so the training and testing scenes have to keep viewers interested for most of the film. Unfortunately, the stone men are not terribly exciting to watch and their obstacle scenes tend to slow down the already short (85-minute) film. There is a confrontation at the midway point between Jack Long and Mark Long, two of producer Kuo's most dependable kung fu stars, yet it is inexcusably short and anticlimactic. Meng Fei was good at playing callow young fighters forced to develop some wisdom and skill and he supplements his fighting displays with acrobatic flips. However, he lacks the strength and intensity that Carter Wong brought to these roles. Still, the final bout with Mark Long is well worth waiting for.
There is no 28 in the film, unbeaten or otherwise. There are 18 obstacles, according to the spoken dialogue in the English dub (although we don't see that many, unless they count each stone man encountered), so perhaps there was a mis-translation of 18 to 28 for the title or of 28 to 18 for the dialogue.
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