Interview: Xu Haofeng – The Final Master


Director/writer Xu Haofeng (The Grandmaster) sat down to talk about his new film The Final Master. Before the film opens June 3rd, Xu took a few moments to talk about The Final Master, what he learned after film school, and Chinese cinema before martial arts films.

You graduated film school in 1997 and your first film didn’t come out until 2011. What did you learn during that time span?

Xu Haofeng: The teachers in the film school are the fourth generation of directors. After graduation you go out into the world and learn before you create. During that time period I wrote novels and did interviews to help me observe society and people from different communities. A lot of young people feel they need to make a movie right after school. It’s become a standard to evaluate how successful you are. That impatience isn’t good. The older generation spent time observing and figuring out what to make, that was part of the creative process. I used those 10 years to prepare for life as a director.

What was more difficult, finishing a novel or finishing a movie?

XH: For me, film making is more difficult than writing a novel. In the 80’s, poetry and new literature was emerging in China. In primary school I started writing novels and poems. Young boys started writing love poems to propose to girls. They didn’t understand love or relationships, but they had so much passion for literature they would use it to communicate. The girls would refuse and write back challenging the boys to write better poems. They would describe those people as literature boys or literature people.

What life experience helped you make The Final Master?

XH: I didn’t use what I knew,  I talked to a lot of older people who’ve been around. I talked, interviewed, and documented what they said.


There’s a stretch towards the film where we see The Master fight down this long corridor. How long did that take to shoot?

XH: 11 days. All the choreography we used and the knife fighting cost $80,000 to learn. Liao Fan plays The Master and he just won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival.  He played in a lot of dramas and his friends didn’t understand why he would want to do a martial arts film. Fan exaggerated the price to his friends and said one move cost $80,000 to learn.

I get why Liao Fan would be attracted to this film. It’s a love story. A love story between The Master and his woman, and The Master and his apprentice. There’s a lot more than fighting.

XH: I agree. The Final Master has two parts. Most of the world knows Chinese people for martial arts cinema from back in 1928. From 1921-1924 we had a different type of cinema. It was full of dramas that talked about social issues. They used traditional morality issues in their films. Our society had dynasties, capitalism, and communism along with other ideas. We made films about social issues. When martial arts films came along in 1928, they focused on the revolution. You solved issues by fighting your way out. The Final Master combines these two genres.

To give some background on the story, it takes place around the 1930’s and 1940’s. During that time in China, people used silver coins from Mexico. At that time Mexico was a militarized government so people were afraid China would become like Mexico. That’s why there’s a military element in this film. Before, every community existed independently and it was healthy for society. Once the military came in, they started to manipulate everything. I wanted to add social issues that were happening during that time.

Are we going to get a sequel to The Final Master?

XH: I’m not thinking about a sequel. A movie is a complete piece. Every movie I do is one complete piece. I have to think that way.