We were rather concerned at the outset that this was going to rapidly descend into some degree of madness, since this movie opens with some extraordinary dragon dancing scenes that regrettably rather outstay their welcome. But we need not have been concerned. After some considerable amount of extreme dragon dancing, the main plot turned up. And it was ye olde reliable: competing martial arts schools, one of which was run by an unpleasant master.
Classical comedy runs at the heart of the plot. I don’t mean bladders on a stick or even satirical comedy, but the classic layers of utter misunderstanding that in most works leads to some minor embarrassments but in a martial arts movie means someone nearly dies. Hey ho! there’s a lot of two way interaction between two male friends at the outset, but one loses his way, does not focus on his studies or training, and in the latter half the interaction slides gently to feature his sister instead. We do dodge the bullet of a love story between them, but she isn’t allowed to really be an actual effective person in her own right. Her martial arts are portrayed as good, and once her brother is disgraced she is allowed to represent her father – but, alas, patriarchy wins out. She doesn’t get to take part in any of the movie end scenes – the trials of cloth, rice sacks, and finally beating the best master in town in a fabulous alley fight scene.
There’s a lot in this movie and it’s almost a shame the plot is relatively simple, with a quite limited cast of characters. There’s no where near the number of plates spinning all at once that The Deadly Breaking Sword managed. The main character development is good, and played well (of course). There’s a scene of training by jogging -you almost never see just plain old cardio exercises in these kinds of martial arts movies. The alley fight scene at the end delivers what the alley fight scene at the end of The Final Master promises and fails to deliver.
All round, a solid showpiece.