Thursday, March 27, 2008

Magnificent Butcher

The Action Mutant…
watched every episode of Martial Law…seriously!

The Magnificent Butcher

review by Joe Burrows

Life is unfair, sometimes. Sammo Hung is one case in point. He grew up along with Jackie Chan, going through the Peking Opera School training and breaking into Hong Kong cinema at around the same time. At one point, Sammo was considered a bigger star there than Jackie, as he could do just about anything Jackie could do (albeit in a shorter, more compact frame). In America, Jackie would eventually become the cherub-faced action idol he had wished to become for decades. Sammo? He became “the guy that had his show on before Chuck Norris’ on Saturdays”. And it only lasted two seasons. And he was never heard in America again. Its ok, I guess. We still have DVD. And Chuck Norris.

The Plot, as it was:
Sammo is “Butcher Wing”, a student of the legendary Wong Fei-Hong’s school and always seemingly looking for trouble. If he’s not mistakenly beating up an old man accused of robbery or conning a vendor out of fresh pigs, he’s being put through the wringer at the school. A misunderstanding leads him into hot water with the rival Five Dragons School, with the pot being stirred mostly by the teacher’s son Foon (Yuen Biao). When Foon accidentally kills his stepsister during an attempted rape (framing Butcher in the process) and Wing’s brother, Butcher must bring back honor for his school and revenge for himself (with the help of a delightful drunk, who knows his kung fu, naturally).

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Definitely one of Hung’s better old school martial arts romps, which includes equal amounts of comedy, action and operatic drama. Sammo employs the same comedic timing that Chan made famous but also shows himself as just as (if not more) skilled of a fighter than Jackie. The comedy is very amusing, even if it sometimes veers off into tasteless territory (what do you get when you cross Sammo, a pot full of water and a blind man looking to relieve himself?). The kung fu formula is tried and true here, with all of the elements you’d expect done right (rival teacher with super technique, inexperience student growing into a man, good natured yet inebriated teacher, etc.). The fight choreography is done by none other than Sammo & Yuen Woo-Ping, the latter who made The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon into worldwide phenomena. Therefore, you know you will get your fair share of wall to wall fight scenes and mind boggling acrobatics. The battle over a sign of calligraphy is insanely well done and just one of many highlights in a film full of them.

Body Count/Violence: 6. However, old school martial arts films weren’t usually full of rampant death. They were all about insanely choreographed fight scenes that went on for 5+ minutes, which are in abundance here. Nothing’s too bloody in this film, with the worst death going to Butcher’s brother. For once, the MPAA got it right by giving it a PG-13.

Sexuality/Nudity: Other than the mildly disturbing (yet still fairly tame) attempted rape scene, there’s nothing.

Language/Dialogue: Just some mild SOBs and the occasional “bastard” (a staple for this genre, it seems).

How bad was it?:
Mostly all critics who know their HK cinema consider this a classic in the genre, as well it should be. Some even put it on par with Chan’s Drunken Master.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
It did well originally for Golden Harvest in 1979, when that company was well into its heyday, making $3.9 million HK. It was released on DVD by Tai Seng in 2000 and by 20Th Century Fox & Fortune Star in 2003 (the latter releasing a long line of Golden Harvest vehicles for American distribution).

Film: ****/*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.

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