The Final Master [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (7th October 2017).
The Film

This film is unique in several ways: it is set during the transnational time period of 1932, before the start of World War II, when the military had started to involve themselves in the formation of martial arts schools. It involves the extensive use of weaponry; one participant states that “fist fighting is boring; let’s fight with knives.” The arsenal utilized is extensive indeed, ranging from bamboo poles to dragon poles with a pair of butterfly knives at the ends to mammoth knives that must be used with two hands because they are the size of a small child.

It is in terms of plot, where "The Final Master" loses a step and falters. I had made it halfway through the film when I realized that I had lost track of the many threads that make up the story and I was struggling to understand who was doing what to whom and why. But then along would come another exciting fight, with knives, and I would be okay with that, and sucked back into the action on the screen. So fans of linear plot development may balk at this one, but martial arts enthusiasts will be delighted with Haofeng Xu’s detailed attention to the fight scenes and the costumes. And knives, lots and lots of badass weaponry is on display here, and the handlers of said weapons are quick and deadly. There is much to feast the eye on, including some excellent scenery and Xu’s mocked up city of Tianjin is a haven for martial arts schools; the entire place is crawling with experts of some ancient art form or another and is more than willing to defend it to the death. So watch your back, stranger!

The cinematography by Tianlin Wang is exceptional and the framing is especially good considering that he uses mostly mid-shots instead of extensive close-ups. The camera positioning not only captures all of the action that is happening, but it also manages to convey the sheer emotional strain that such fighting would have upon its practitioners. All of these things are ushered along in an ordinary matter and the pacing of the film is fast.

Chen Shi (Liao Fan) is the sole practitioner of Wing Chun, a secret form of hand-to-hand fighting that is almost dead because it is not being widely taught to anyone currently. This is to soon be resolved when Chen makes a solemn promise to his dying teacher that he will go on to Tianjin and start a new school that will teach the ancient secrets to new students, however there is a catch in that situation: he soon learns that he must find an apprentice that will dedicate himself to the art form of Wing Chun, that the school founder needs to be married, and that he’ll need to train for three years, and then fight and win in a battle with no less than 8 of the competing schools.

The outcome is mixed as well; he could very well simply be banished from the town for being too good. The introduction of the future Mrs. Shi is handled remarkably quickly; Chen is told of a woman that has a certain shady reputation because of an early unexpected pregnancy, and he basically proposes to her, scratching this off of his “things to do” list. Zhao Guohui (Jia Song) is the lady in question, and she has plenty of her own hidden agendas as well, as Chen will soon find out. Into this knot of dysfunction enters Master Zou (Wenli Jiang), a crafty veteran that runs everything in Tianjin; he is the dude that established all the preceding criteria. He is not to be trusted, but then again, who is? There are plenty of characters crossing and double crossing each other because that is just the way it is. Chen Si soon enough finds a candidate for an apprentice in Geng Liangchen (Yang Song) and encounters the tricky Master Zou, a sort of cross dressing, double-dealing widow that has her own plans for him. It looks like everything is in place for success, as the apprentice has a natural ken for the Wing Chun style and is advancing with his studies, but don’t get too comfortable viewer, there are plenty of dastardly acts ahead.

Though hardly a raving martial arts fan, I did enjoy the excellent choreography involved in the fight scenes, and this film is packed with lots of action, but most especially, the more exotic type of weaponry of the sharpened edge variety. Yes, knives, two handed blade work with all types of sharp objects: broad axes, butterfly knives, battle axes, daggers and all type of swords are employed to great effect. The sounds of steel on steel zinging from the speakers was all I needed to hear to know that Xu is a director of great skill and the intensity of the fighters is astonishing. Now if I only could make sense of who was a liar and who was a cheater; who was the winner and who was the loser, they all get muddled in a fog of clashing styles. I need a clear cut winner and loser in these battles, not an ambiguous ending that clearly leaves the door open for a sequel. I guess this means that The Final Master is hardly the final end of this story.

Video

Presented in the film's original ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p HD mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. Tianlin Wang’s colorful palette is interesting, filling the screen with plenty of sizzling sword work, excellent fight scenes, and there is intense detail in the close ups.

Audio

Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo are the two audio tracks included. The soundtrack features audio using DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks; however one wishes that the director would have utilized Dolby Atmos for the mix to really get the most out all that clashing steel. Despite that, dialogue is clear and clean throughout the film and the audio mix is complex and active. Subtitles are included in English, Chinese (Traditional), and Spanish.

Extras

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

"Weapons" featurette (3:25) is an overview of weaponry and a brief interview with the director regarding the finished product. Covers an illustrated glossary of all the many different styles of weaponry used in the film with a brief explanation accompanying the illustrations.

"Director" featurette (2:37), is a brief interview with author-director Haofeng Xu as he explains what he was attempting to do with this film.

The film's original theatrical trailer (1:36), a down and dirty trailer of some of the great action featured in the film.

Bonus trailers are included for:

- "God of War" (2:04)
- "The Game Changer" (4:11)
- "Railroad Tigers" (1:15)

DISC TWO: DVD

A second disc is included with a DVD copy version of the film.

Packaging

Packaged in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

"the Final Master" is an interesting film that definitely breaks the mold of countless martial art films, but the plot is heavier than the rest of the film weighing it down until the last fight scene where our hero really cuts loose.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.