Fantasia 2017 Review: THE FINAL MASTER Is Incredible Even When It Stinks

Awesome martial arts overcome a baffling story.

While it’s true an ideal kung fu movie would provide a marriage of both great action and a cool storyline, it’s also true that if one greatly outweighs the other, that’s still a mostly successful action film. Obviously, we want everything to be as good as it can possibly be, but I would totally watch The Final Master again solely for its action even though I don’t think the storytelling at play is at all worth recommending. It’s possible there were translation issues, or maybe key cultural things Western viewers aren’t likely to know, but I found The Final Master’s story nearly incomprehensible.

It’s definitely complicated. The last master of a particular sort of knife fighting comes to open a school in some place called Tianjin, which apparently has a whole host of complicated rules when it comes to opening kung-fu businesses. The guy has to find an apprentice (he can’t do it himself) train him to battle the heads of eight out of sixteen local schools (after which the kid must be banished).

Sounds like a great movie! Except a ton of complications get in the way, and by the time the whole thing ended, I had no idea why X was fighting Y, or really who Y was.

But I loved watching them fight. Not that there’s a lack of legit martial arts movies out there right now, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to see one at the top of its game like this. The Final Master is particularly focused on blade combat. The main character uses a nifty pair knives and nearly all his enemies use some variety of stabbing utensils - some are just gigantic (and I mean gigantic) swords, others are crazy things at the end of long poles. There is great hand to hand combat as well, including one really fun scene where the Master casually beats up like twenty guys just for the hell of it.

That’s the other thing. This movie is funny. Not in a silly way either, as is the case a lot of times when martial arts movies go for humor. The Final Master is full of quiet, subtle jokes that take real skill to pull off. Even more surprising, it has a remarkably moving love story at its center. That’s a lot more than I would expect from a movie like this.

Nevertheless, the story just isn’t there. Or there’s too much of it, rather. The film is plenty long already, but the elliptical almost passive way it conveys information makes it feel like whole exposition scenes were just yanked out at the last minute, and with each new narrative setup I was left unsure what I was seeing go down.

Ultimately, I’m going positive on The Final Master because the good outweighs the bad to a remarkable degree. It also has one of the better final fight sequences I’ve seen in a long while. But it’s certainly not a perfect film, even if it does have near-flawless action.

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