KNOCKOUT (2020) review

p2597063926The fourth high-profile film in the time of Covid-19 to forgo a delayed theatrical release in favor of a much-advertised VOD release, Roy Chow’s Knockout follows Zhou Shi (Han Geng), an undefeated boxing champion who spends six years in prison after sending a few men to the hospital during a barroom brawl. But as he gets his freedom back, he learns that his girlfriend, pregnant at the time of his incarceration, has died and left him sole custodian of their daughter Blithe (Elena Cai). For her sake, he decides to give up on boxing for a low-paid but safer job as a delivery man; father and daughter bond quickly, but soon their happiness is compromised: his late girlfriend’s mother (Vivian Wu), a wealthy businesswoman, wants custody of Blithe and is ready to sue her father for it. Though his heart breaks at the idea of being separated from his daughter, Shi is soon given no choice: Blithe is diagnosed with leukemia, and he’s unable to afford the best treatment for her. Having surrendered her to her grandmother, he endeavors to regain his champion title, as a symbol for her daughter to keep fighting no matter what.

With Knockout, Roy Chow seems primarily interested in jerking tears out of his audience in the most on-the-nose way, supercharging the cuteness factor for half an hour, with an admittedly charming performance by child actress Elena Cai, sharing warm chemistry with Han Geng, and then stacking the adversity deck as heavily as possible – not only a doomed custody battle (of course the mother-in-law is rich and resentful, though Vivian Wu skillfully avoids turning her into a caricature), but also a life-threatening disease affecting the child. Cue risibly piteous scenes of the now bald little girl screaming as she gets intravenous injections for chemotherapy (nothing more than a tear-jerking ploy, as in real life this would not be done without anesthetics), or an even more shamelessly melodramatic moment where Shi yells angrily at his daughter on her hospital bed, for her own good, to make her want to be with her wealthy grandmother rather than with him. This is the kind of awards-bait that actually repels awards.

Elsewhere, the film follows the Rocky formula closely yet superficially, and without an ounce of subtlety. Shi delivers a speech to his child that’s verbatim the one Rocky delivers to his child in Rocky Balboa: “It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, that’s how winning is done!” becomes “You must keep going even if you get hit. If you stay on your feet, you have a chance of winning.”. There’s a rather unmemorable training montage, and in the final match (against an arrogant Japanese boxer, obviously) Shi, much like the Italian Stallion, is defined by his ability to take a pummeling and still keep fighting. The Dion Lam-choreographed finale is solidly entertaining, though low on emotional stakes – a paradoxical side-effect of the relentless tugging at heartstrings that preceded it. More crucially, Han Geng is never really believable as a boxing champion, despite six months of intensive training; he can’t fully shed his wimpy vibe, and in real life his flailing, overexposed boxing style would never get anyone above local tryouts. Amusingly, Janine Chang cameos post-credits as the now grown-up Blithe (interestingly, she’s also glimpsed in the audience of the final match…): after Jackie Chan as an older Hu Ge in The Climbers, this is yet another instance of the need for a star cameo superseding the search for a matching nose.

Long Story Short: A competent but shamelessly derivative and melodramatic sports drama, paradoxically weighed further down by Han Geng’s lightweight presence. *1/2



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  1. As always, I appreciate your reviews! Please keep them coming.
    With that in mind, do you plan to cover Better Days, after it swept the HK film awards earlier this week? I’ve got it to watch later today but would be really interested in your take on it.

    • Thank you!
      I didn’t really like Better Days to be honest, maybe I’ll review it at some point.


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