THE FINAL MASTER (SHI FU)
Directed by: Xu Haofeng
Written by: Xu Haofeng
Starring: Liao Fan, Song Jia, Jiang Wenli, Chin Shi-Chieh, and Chen Kuan-Tai
Clanging swords, elegant knife fights, a beautiful but deadly ballet of martial arts mastery, and likeable characters with inner turmoil, all wrapped in a classy period piece bow… You guessed it, it’s another epic film by Xu Haofeng.
Xu wowed Fantasia last year with the exceptional, and widely entertaining, JUDGE ARCHER. This year’s entry, THE FINAL MASTER, lives up to hype and is quickly becoming another classic. It slashes into the soul of everything that makes an entertaining martial arts flick.
Set in pre-WW2 China, THE FINAL MASTER follows Grandmaster Chen, one of the last masters of Wing Chun close combat fighting. He’s eager to set up his school in Tianjin, to honour his master’s memory, but must first comply with rules from Master Zheng and the other board member of the city’s Martial Arts committee. Chen must train a champion, a cocky but talented street punk, to take on 8 other schools’ champions… only things get more complicated when inner politics, and the rise of the country’s militarys power, come into play.
Translation: a lot of friggin’ kickass fight scenes. Seriously. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the genre, but I know what I like, and this film is a treasure for the eyeballs. And I’m apparently not alone, because this film has won several best choreography awards already.
Xu has a way with filming real quick movements without it getting lost in a blur of what happened. Hollywood, please take note, and do what this guy’s doing. If you film a fight scene let’s see what’s actually going on in said fight scene. The fight choreography is lightning fast, yet still gorgeous to look at. Pair that up with the sound design, skilled camera work, and editing, and you got a very entertaining sight to behold. You really feel like you’re in there. I may have ducked once or twice. I can still see and hear the cold steel clanging and swooshing away.
The sheer variety of fighting styles, and various sharp weaponry, certainly keeps you guessing and entertained. The twists and turns, and aforementioned likeable characters, keep you there wanting to see what happens next. If this film was just shiny weapons, that would be fine, but you actually care about these characters and that gives it an added edge. I walked away not expecting certain things to happen, but still feeling thoroughly pleased with everything about it. And everyone look so classy and dapper with there suits and hats. If this was a Netflix series about pre-WW2 fighting schools in China, I’d binge the crap out it.
Yes, some have complained about the story. At times the plot can be a little confusing, and tad befuddling –there’s actually a whole lot more to the plot, and some confusing character moments– but those issues aren’t really as perplexing as some will have you believe. Besides, you’re not really watching this kind of film for the story. You’re watching it for the action, and this film certainly delivers on that front. There’s also quite a few funny moments, but it never once shifts from the tone of the story in any kind of jarring way. It’s perfectly placed and balanced… very much like every bit of swordplay in this film.
If you want to see a stunning display of an action director at the top of his game, and watch something that raises the bar of the genre, watch The Final Master.
The Final Master is available on Blu Ray next week.
For more Kung Fu, Horror, Action, and Weirdo Cinema, check out the Fantasia Festival, running all the way thru August 2nd!