By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Except for one quick, brutal, and negligible scene early on, “The Final Master” abides by that most sacred of martial arts film shibboleths: The challengers must attack the Master one at a time. Because if they all attacked at once, as “Mad” magazine put it many years ago, “They’d beat his brains out.”
But Xu Haiofeng’s film delves deeply into tradition — who’s got tradition, who wants to continue tradition, who does and does not deserve to continue tradition — so for it to adhere to tradition in cinematic ways is hardly surprising, and ultimately a comfort.
Set in pre-World War II China, it revolves around the dashing Liao Fan as Master Chen, a young man amazingly skilled in the art of knife fighting. He wants to keep his line of fighting true, real, and vital. But he runs afoul of the local dojos and local politicians, resulting in a dense stew of masters, acolytes, hidden motives, not-so-hidden politics, mistaken identities, early motion-picture technology, and fighting knives of all shapes, sizes, and lineages.
The fight sequences ring out with the clang of edged metal, and undoubtedly look much better on the big screen than the small screen on which I watched the preview. And the film has the courage to end on an ambiguous note. To let the viewers, after all that action, make up their own minds about these minds and hearts.
May 28 — SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival, 6 p.m.
May 29 — Shoreline Community College Theater, 6:30 p.m.
May 30 — Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 5:30 p.m.
Director Haofeng Xu, Producers Dongqiu Chen, Xiaofeng Hu, and Xia Li, and Assistant Director Junfeng Xu are scheduled to attend all three showings.