July 31, 2017

Movie Review: The Final Master

When I approached watching The Final Master, I was unsure of what to expect. Based on the trailer I saw the action was going to feature weapons and be primarily based on Wing Chun. It also boasted being from the writer of The Grandmaster. The film also appeared to be set in a similar time frame of The Grandmaster and the Ip Man films. It is true, The Final Master is set in the 1930’s, just prior to the start of World War II. I was excited to see the action, however, that was tempered by my expectation of period based drama. You see, those are not particular favorites of mine, period dramas. I have found the martial arts ones, in particular, tend to lose me along the way as I wait for the next fight.

As it turns out, I was right to be apprehensive. The Final Master was written and directed by Haofeng Xu, adapting his own novel. He has previously written and directed The Sword Identity and Judge Archer, and has The Hidden Sword in post production. Xu grew up around martial arts and has been writing for some time, with a specific interest in that pre WWII period where the direction of martial arts was changing.

There was a lot of stuff going on at the time, loyalties were questioned, motives were changing and the military was getting more involved in some of the more private aspects of the martial arts. He brings all of this to bear in this film which gets a little labyrinthian when trying to figure out motives and allegiances. It is all quite melodramatic and it is in this that the movie loses me, I can never keep track of who wants what and who is working for or against whom. What keeps me in the film is the finely choreographed fight sequences.

The film centers, somewhat on Chen Shi (Fan Liao), he wishes to fulfill his dying master’s last wish to open a Wing Chun academy in Tianjin, a transitional city where academies for many different styles existed. In order for him to open a school, his protege must defeat the champions of eight other schools. Of course, there are those who would conspire to see this not happen, and this is where we get the shifting allegiances and the background of a unifying military, all working against Chen Shi.

When it comes right down to it, I do not care about the reasoning behind those working against him and his student. I sort of broke it down to those being against Shi and his student and him fighting to overcome those who would stop him. I broke it down further to just enjoying the well choreographed fights. I like the knife aspect, most films of this ilk involve swords or pole fighting, when not just of the punch/kick variety. Watching these knife fights was pretty amazing and also watching how Chen Shi did not fight to kill, and seemed legitimately interested in spreading the secrets of Wing Chun.

While I did not care for the melodrama or the chessboard that is Tianjin, I loved watching the intricately staged fights, the superb knifework. The acting is pretty much one dimensional with many conversations coming in hushed whispers of self importance. It was not as entertaining as I had hoped, more sporadically good with stretches of ho-humness. I mean, it looks very good, but it was just not really for me, save the fights.

Mildly Recommended.

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