ROUND 8 PICK 5 APRIL 16
“The Final Master” “Shi fu” (original title) (2015)
Cast: Fan Liao, Jia Song, Wenli Jiang, Shih-Chieh King, Yang Song, Madina Memet, Jue Huang, Aoyue Zhang, Jun Ma, Kuan Tai Chen, Xin Xin Xiong, Leon Dai, Jirong Qiu, Bo Li, Jiahao Zou, Karina, and many others.
Awards: 17 wins and 21 nominations
I went looking for other movies with Fan Liao after seeing him in 2014’s, “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” and I wasn’t disappointed! Unfortunately, the library system didn’t have it, so I ended up buying it. (I actually think it’s available on Netflix now.) Fortunately, this meant it was here last weekend to re-watch. It was even better the second time around as there is so much plot going on that it was hard to absorb it all the first time.
Firstly, I am a fan of martial arts movies, so I’ve watched quite a few of them.Secondly, I’m a trained martial artist, even though I haven’t practiced since the90s. When I was active I was blessed to have seen a few of the weapons used inthe film up close being wielded by exceptional martial artists at my old dojo(martial arts training school) or while visiting other dojos. What sets The Final Master apart from so many other martial arts movies is that almost all of the fight scenes involve close-ups with the weapons.
Set in the 1930’s, Chen Shi (played by Liao) is the last student of his Wing Chun style Master in Canton, in Southern China. His master has died, which means heis the last practitioner of it and he promised his sensei that he would keep Wing Chun alive. He travels north to Tianjin, which is a martial arts hub with manywell-established dojos and connects with the Grandmaster Zheng Shan’ao(played by King) to get advice on how to get approval to set up his own school.The conversation involves how each style keeps its techniques secret and that is why Wing Chun is precariously threatened with dying out and talks about sharing secrets so all can keep them alive and vibrant. The Grandmaster says that at least 8 of the existing dojos must be challenged to a fight and won before there can be any consideration of allowing him to open a dojo in Tianjin. He also states it cannot be Chen Shi who fights; it has to be his apprentice and the apprentice must come from Tianjin. It is expected that it will take any apprentice at least 3years to get up to speed. The Grandmaster says he knows of some good candidates that Chen Shi can take on to train, but Chen Shi prefers to find his own. He has pressing matters in Canton and doesn’t have 3 years to waste, but he decides to try to meet the challenge as he made a promise.
Keeping a low profile, Chen Shi lives in a humble home. He goes out for dinner at a night club with Zheng Shan’ao and finds himself drawn to the hostess, Zhao Guohui (played by Jia Song) of the place. He finds out that Zhao was a teenage mother whose baby was taken from her and sold. Further the unwed pregnancy makes her “tainted” and thus unmarriable to anyone respectable. Chen Shioffers to marry Zhao with a pretty sweet deal.
Way leads on to way. One day a couple of young street laborers are struck by Zhao’s beauty and decide to follow her home. When Chen Shi gets home and they see him, one of the young men skedaddles but one, Geng Liangchen(played by Yang Song) decides to fight for Zhao in a knife challenge. Chen Shiinstantly recognizes Geng Liangchen’s natural fighting skills and selects him as his apprentice.
The main villain is Master (Madame) Zou (played by Liang.) She’s beauty and the beast, like a fragrant flower that shoots poisoned darts into you when you bend down to smell it.
And so begins this tale of romance, intrigue, politics, honor, and deceit, all intricately woven with the martial arts backdrop.
What I liked about the movie are the sets, which are lavish, as are the costumes.The cinematography is excellent, as is the fight scene choreography. The actors are first-rate. The chemistry between Chen Shi and Zhao is off the charts! The plot is complex which elevates it from many other martial arts movies.
The only thing I can say I didn’t like about it is how short it was; too bad another30 minutes couldn’t have been added to flesh out certain story lines. I also don’t like the fact it didn’t get the type of promotion so many other movies get that aren’t half as good.
Lessons learned: there are those who still exist that have honor, integrity, and commitment; love can be found when you least expect it.
Score from 1-10: 8.5+