I am not the most knowledgeable person regarding martial arts or China in general. Wing-Chun, Tianjin, Xu Haofeng, these are names I would have to research to have a vague idea of the history behind the new movie, The Final Master. Luckily, historical knowledge is not really required to appreciate and enjoy this film. It is an excellent display of (a new-to-me type of) martial arts involving knives, with a bit of a love story and political intrigue thrown in for added entertainment.
The film opens with a brief history lesson: “In 1912 Tianjin’s first martial arts academy was born. By 1932 Tianjin had become home to many types of fighting styles from all across China.” We are also quickly introduced to Master Chen and the Grandmaster of Tianjin who discuss their legacies. Chen wants to open his own academy for the dying martial art style of Wing-Chun, but he has to train an apprentice to defeat eight of the other nineteen academies in Tianjin.
In short order, Chen takes on a wife and an apprentice. His wife has an interesting, though tragic, backstory and I love how one or two of their serious discussions takes place while Chen is fighting; there are seemingly random fight scenes throughout the movie. His apprentice also has some interesting storylines while training with Chen. As Chen’s apprentice starts racking up the victories, all three of their lives are put in jeopardy as a political power struggle forces Chen to try to choose between what is right and what is expected, with some possibly heartbreaking outcomes.
It all leads to an awesome climactic battle between one of the three and seemingly everyone else. Director Xu Haofeng adapted this film from his acclaimed novella, The Master, and the film deservedly won a 2015 Golden Horse Award for Best Action Choreography.
If you like to watch great martial artists, this film will not disappoint. Be prepared to read if you don’t speak Chinese and want to keep up with the drama and political intrigue that compliments the action. I know people who tell me all the time they “don’t want to read” a movie, but this story is worth the extra effort.