Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Final Master

No time to do a full review of the weekend's Coolidge Midnight Ass-Kicking (Bastard Swordsman), but time just didn't allow that - midnight show in Brookline means the bus and walk doesn't quite get one home to Somerville until around three, which doesn't leave a whole lot of time until the first show of The Final Master.

I've got to say, though, as rival kung-fu clan politics goes, I wonder if the folks in Bastard Swordsman would trade wholesale slaughter and people somehow wrapping themselves in magic cocoons to become super kung fu masters for the backstabbing betrayals of The Final Master.

Shi Fu (The Master, aka The Final Master)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 June 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

When I saw Xu Haofeng's The Sword Identity four years ago, I thought it was as straight-faced a satire on martial-arts movies as you would find; seeing his follow-up The Master (called "The Final Master" in the USA to avoid confusion with various other productions), which is built upon many of the same plot points, I'm not so sure that was the case. Xu's fascination with the secretive martial-arts world of the past is legitimate, serving as inspiration for a nifty piece of work with a couple of terrific action pieces.

It starts in 1932, when the Chinese city of Tianjin has nineteen martial arts academies and an entrenched establishment that makes it difficult for an outsider like Chen Shi (Liao Fan), a Wing-Chun master from Canton, to open his own school there, even with the respect and friendship of Grandmaster Zheng Shan'ao (Chin Shih-chieh). The rules say that if Chen or a disciple defeats the champions of at least eight schools, he will be allowed to open one (although it's a bit more complicated than that). He finds his first student in Geng Liangchen (Song Yang), a coolie who turns out to be prodigy.

There's an interesting dynamic between Chen and Zheng, in that the older Zheng is the forward-looking one, fascinated by the Western things that are becoming fixtures in his city and recognizing that the traditional way of doing things well have them losing more ground to the West, while Chen is reluctant to be the one to challenge tradition on his behalf. Unlike many films set in this time and place, the westernization feels like an insidious intrusion - compare it to the stylish modernity of The Phantom of the Theatre, or the sneering foreign devils of many more overtly-nationalist Chinese movies. As the film goes on, Xu reveals that there is plenty going on among the schools both related to this theme and hovering around it.

Full review on EFC.

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