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The Final Master 

Wednesday, Jun 1 2016
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Xu Haofeng's The Final Master is the second film out of mainland China in the past month to be set in the 1930s, as motion pictures were replacing live theater, and that relates to Wong Kar-wai's 2013 The Grandmaster (which Xu also wrote, and which deals with the spread of the Wing Chun style of martial arts). The master of this particular film's title is Chen (Liao Fan), who travels north to Tianjin to open a Wing Chun academy, where he takes both a Rudolph Valentino-worshipping wife (Song Jia) and a student (Song Yang), and unwittingly becomes entangled in a local political power struggle. Unlike the slo-mo grandeur of The Grandmaster or the pulpiness of last month's 1930s-era Phantom of the Theatre, The Final Masterp lays more like a bone-dry comedy. Its stylized dialogue and symmetrical compositions often come across like parodies of such conventions, and a dog provides a key piece of plot information. That plot is often propelled by a downright proggy score, which makes heavy use of that most-underused keyboard instrument, the electric piano. (If it's anachronistic to film's time period, that's also part of its charm.) But the real selling point is the fighting, and if you're a fan of fighting with knives, The Final Master has got you covered.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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