While not all of the Well Go USA Blu-ray releases have been gold, they do try their hardest to get the rights to some mighty entertaining martial arts films. Granted, some are better than others, but when they’re good, they’re damn good. In the case of The Final Master, Haofeng Xu manages to pull off a triple threat as not just writer/director, but the film is also based on his own novel. After garnering attention from co-writing Kar-Wai Wong’s The Grandmaster — one of the best martial arts films this decade — it’s not surprising to find himself behind the camera. While this may be his third film, he comes armed with spectacular choreography and a wicked sense of humor. The Final Master may not be Grandmaster good, but he’s getting there.
Wing Chung Grandmaster Chen (Liao Fan) — that’s Ip Man to you and me — just wants to honor his master by opening his own school in Tianjin. Master Zheng (Chin Shi-Chieh) wants to help Chen, but wants to make sure he prepares Chen for his journey. The Tianjin Martial Arts Committee has a set of rules, one being that he must prove he’s not on an ego trip and must defeat eight schools. He also needs a wife and a protege. The headstrong Zhao (Song Jia) will do for the wife and he settles on the impressive street fighter Geng (Song Yang) to train under his strict guidance. Soon enough, Chen finds himself under the scrutiny of the Committee and becomes a pawn in a battle with Zheng, underworld kingpin Master Zou (Jiang Wenli), and the local military where Chen stands to lose everything.
Reviewing Well Go USA Blu-rays feels like a broken record. The only major difference between discs seems to be whether they are afforded a 25 or 50 GB disc. Depending on a number of extras, and audio track, most are on a 25, such is the case with The Final Master. Featuring only a Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Dolby Digital track helps visually when there are also only three short special features vying for space.
Banding is non-existent, crush never creeps in to ruin shadow detail — it helps that most of the film takes place during the day. While possibly being filmed digitally, there’s a nice filmic image — if slightly noisy — when watched upscaled on a 75” 4K TV. Close-ups provide exemplary detail even when costumes start to lose the slightest bit of detail from long shots. Contrast and colors are also spot on. The audio track could have used a 7.1, Atmos, or DTS:X track, but the 5.1 mix still packs a pretty good punch. Surrounds don’t come into play as often as they could, the film feels extremely front heavy, but music, sound effects, and dialogue are all clean and discernible. Panning effects and directionality are used to great effect considering a number of fight scenes. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
The special features could have been a little more sprawling — they clock in at less than eight minutes combined — but are pretty fun while they last. “The Weapons” (3:26) is a basic look at the weapons used throughout the film, while a “Director Featurette” (2:37) is a standard EPK praising Xu. The film’s trailer (1:38) is included, along with front-loaded previews for additional Well Go USA titles: God of War, The Game Changer, and Railroad Tigers.
Considering how many films have been made covering the legacy of Ip Man, it takes something different to stand out from the crowd. Xu’s The Final Master has a hilarious sense of humor and the prerequisite fight scenes to pique one’s interest. Ip Man fans will no doubt rush to pick this one up and have made a wise choice. It was nice to sit back and be entertained for a change with a martial arts film that didn’t take itself completely seriously. Sometimes that can make them just feel silly by the final fight. But with Well Go’s track record on the A/V end, and Xu keeping you entertained from start to finish. The Final Master may not be the final Ip Man film, but it’s a fantastic addition to the pack.