New from Well Go USA is director Haofeng Xu’s The Final Master. This is a martial arts story that takes place in the 1930s and is about a tremendously skilled bladesman (to call him just a swordsman seems unfair) who wishes to open a Wing Chun school in the city of Tianjin. However, to open a new academy, there are some very old requirements including defeating eight other schools — sounds cool, but I found following the story of The Final Master bizarrely difficult.
I think this was the first movie I had seen from this director so maybe that has something to do with it, but despite having seen a lot of Asian cinema and being used to reading subtitles, I had a very hard time following who was who and what was what as The Final Master played out across some 110 minutes. I got the general idea as mentioned earlier — a somewhat aging master wanted to preserve his art of Wing Chun by opening a school in this town that is practically a nexus of martial arts knowledge, but to do so he had to meet certain requirements. He picks up a wife early in the film to help him with these requirements, and then a student, but he is deceptive enough to both of them as to become an unlikable protagonist as well. By the end of the movie, or even somewhere at the halfway point, I realized I had little understanding or investment in the characters and didn’t like any of them. Besides good settings, costumes,and cinematography, for me the only real saving grace of the film itself are the action/fight scenes, which feature some very intense blade fights. The intensity does not come from blood and gore, but just the speed and brutal grace of the blades — the fights are far shorter than a typical empty-hand fight scene from similar films, and of all the ‘kung fu’ movies I have seen, exceedingly few feature close-range knife and blade fighting like this one, so I give it a lot of credit there.
The technical quality of this Blu-ray release is solid; expect a crisp image in 2:39:1 ratio that impresses and avoids CG or other fake-looking techniques. Audio is similarly impressive, DTS-HD 5.1 gets the job done. For extra features, there isn’t much at all — some Well Go trailers and two featurettes clocking in at a mere three and a half minutes and two and a half minutes. The latter is a brief biopic on director Haofeng Xu while the former is a brief but interesting look at some of the weapons featured in the movie.
Overall, The Final Master is worth watching, but it’s easily one of my least favorite Well Go USA releases that I have seen in the last few years because the story is hard to follow and none of the characters are really likeable. Good, unique choreography and a technically solid presentation help, but overall The Final Master is not a terrible impressive movie.