Written by David Cuevas
The Final Master is a 2016 action drama, directed by Xu Haofeng, the writer of the acclaimed 2013 film The Grandmaster. Before going into this flick, I almost saw no promotional material. I only read the synopsis of the film and saw the poster of the film a couple weeks before, at my local cinema, and thought, “That is one dope ass poster. I NEED IT!” So already, with a cool concept of a master creating a martial arts school before World War II, and an awesome poster, I had a bit of expectations going into the film, but not much. But after seeing the film, I can say that The Final Master, needs to go back to film school and work on its execution, pacing, story, and character arks. The Final Master is a muddled, un-motivated, mess with a pace of a small ADHD Child drinking tons of Fruitopia while watching an Asian action flick.
Sometimes, during the 109 minute run time, you don’t even know what’s happening. Things go by so fast, you barely have a second to compensate what you just saw, because it goes on to the next scene. The reason why a film like Mad Max Fury Road works so well is because it has a simple plot that relies on minimal subplots. Because the story is so simple, you can follow and understand while the madness is happening on screen. But for The Final Master’s sake, you don’t even get to understand the characters interests and motivations until it gets mentioned in another scene. And even then you lose track. There’s too many things going on, and it would help if some characters and scenes that weren’t very interesting or helpful to the film, can be left forever on the cutting room floor. You might have heard the overused phrase “Quality over quantity” And I can clearly state that Xu Haofeng ignored this phrase completely while directing and writing this film.
For the acting, I thought the main protagonist, Chen, was kind of like a discount Lupin the Third. To be honest, I’ve only seen one Lupin film (the Hayao Myasaki film), but only from that film, I can see what they were trying to mimic. And Jesus, did it flop. His character has the personality of an action figure. You know, those figures that have their identity and minimal personality traits on the back of the card board box. So what is he? Cunning? Yes. Clever? Yes. Only focuses on one clear motivation, until he clears his mind conveniently in the third act? Yes. Relies on anime cliché’s? Yep. And that’s pretty much it, except that he is really skilled in martial arts. For the love interest in the film, she basically has the same motivation as Chen. Actually, almost every character in the film has a similar motivation like Chen. Except for one, Master Zou. She kind of reminded me of the character Princess Kushana, from Naussica of the Valley of the wind. The Difference between Zou and Kushana is that Kushana actually has an interesting motivation and plot that surrounds her, while Master Zou, as stated before, the pacing goes so fast you don’t even get to understand the character. The only time that I felt Zou’s motivation, is during the climax, in a grandiose alley sequence and even then, it was quite underwhelming.
As for the positive, the action is terrific. It’s well choreographed martial arts fun. At times, I was shocked at how the actors pulled off their own stunts. No wonder it won the Golden Horse Film Festival - Best Action Choreography award! Also accompanying the action, is the cinematography. Some of the filters used in the film felt more like a modern atmosphere instead of using its filters to depict a pre-World War II setting. This also goes with the production design and the costume design in the film. The Final Master is an off paced, clunky Asian action film with not much to offer. The only complement is that it kicked its way for some bad-ass action!