'The Magnificent Butcher' review by MartialHorror
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THE MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER(1978)
(Directed by Sammo Hung and Woo-ping Yuen)
"Magnificent indeed."- Signed by MartialHorror.
Plot: A clumsy, foolish(yet capable) martial artist accidentally gets in trouble with a rival school, and it takes a drunken master to train him so he can save the day. Also known as “Lin Shi Rong”.
Well, here is quite the surprise. I can tell you all day that I love me some kung fu films, and I do. With that said, I find that I’m disappointed by so many of them. Sure, I love the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee and even that big ole disappointment Tony Jaa(I’m way too harsh here, but “The Protector” was too standard and “Ong Bak 2” took way too long to get made). But when all is said and done, I love few the genre more than the actual films themselves. Recently, I watched genre classics like “The One-Armed Swordsman”, starring Jimmy Yu, and “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, starring Gordon Liu, and while they were both good examples of the genre, I can’t say I was blown away by either. Why didn’t I love them? For many reasons. I suppose the most is that while the fight scenes were good, the plots were redundant and often padded. Feel free to disagree with me. When I watch a kung fu piece, I don’t demand heavy plots, but I would like some thematic material, subtext, and even a little plot would be kind of nice.
Another major contention I have with the genre is Jackie Chan. Naw, I’m sort of kidding here. I love Jackie, but he introduced a new, annoying wave of kung fu: Comedy. Now, I also love comedy, but not Hong Kong comedy. The jokes are broad and often annoy me. An excellent example of irritating comedy bringing down what is an amazing movie is “Police Story”. For every superb stunt or slickly choreographed fight scene, there is Maggie Cheung yelling and yelling some more. It pleases the eye but hurts the brain. So here is “The Magnificent Butcher”, a 1978 kung fu picture starring Jackie’s brother-in-arms, Sammo Hung. Jackie has just had a hit with “Drunken Master”, a comedy/kung fu hybrid, and Sammo thinks he can better. Do you know what? He does. “The Magnificent Butcher” is a great kung fu film for many reasons, the most shocking being that I found this to be funny. FUNNY!
The film focuses on Butcher Wing, a fat, clumsy, dumb, foolish, stubborn, hard headed butcher who trains under the famous Wong Fei Hung(Kwan, who does some amazing stunts here). We first meet him in the films most clichéd and unfunny gag, when he slips on a banana peel. Another butcher quickly grabs the pigs that he was carrying and says he will only return them if Wing calls him master. Wing is too proud and we roll our eyes at his stupidity when he somehow outsmarts the guy and gets more pigs than he originally had in a very clever moment. So calling him dumb isn’t really fair. Furthermore, we also see how good at kung fu he actually is. So he’s not a complete stereotype. His only problem is he assumes too quickly, which leads to the films problems. Regardless, with all his flaws, he certainly means well. One of my problems with some of Jackie Chan’s movies is how he often plays an obnoxious punk. It’s nice to see characters who are naturally likeable.
The plot is actually very complex, but not convoluted, and revealing too much would be spoiling, so I’ll tell as little as possible. The rival school of Wong Fei Hung is Master Ko(Lee), who almost is a stereotype. Master Ko isn’t an evil guy, but he isn’t really likeable either. He’s one of those masters who has a mock air of politeness and enjoys dominating those around him. But as said, he isn’t really evil. It is his son, Tai-Hoi(Fung), who will soon become one of the most despicable characters in the genre. He’s smug, cunning, manipulates everyone around him(including his Father), rapes, murders, and worst of all: He doesn’t even have the skill to back this up. He knows some kung fu, but probably was too lazy to make a career out of it. Instead of fighting his own battles, he uses his minions, or tricks others into saving him. He causes a surprising amount of pain in this movie, and it’s easy to hate the guy. Master Ko, while not being a good person, is just another victim of his sons ways.
Wing must contend with many obstacles. The first is the return of his brother, Sai-Kwong(Chiang) and his sister-in-law(Tang), who are looking for him. Unfortunately for them, they are conned by Tai-Hoi, who claims that his brother owed him money. Since Sai-Kwong can’t pay it, Tai-Hoi steals his wife. Sai-Kwong successfully ambushes Tai-Hoi, but Wing stumbles upon them, not recognizing his brother(who in turn, does not recognize him because Wing was skinny last time they saw eachother). He presumes that Sai-Kwong is just beating Tai-Hoi up for no reason, so comes to his aid. Wing and Tai-Hoi become friends, and Sai-Kwong goes home to commit suicide. Luckily, he is interrupted by the drunken master character, Beggar So(Fan). Yes, it’s supposed to be the same character from Jackie’s “Drunken Master”. Apparently the original actor, Yuen Siu Tien, was signed on to reprise his role, but died shortly before filming. This arguably is the result of “The Magnificent Butcher” being a flop. Shame. Beggar So befriends Sai-Kwong and decides to help him get his wife back. Tai-Hoi, in turn, begs Wing to protect him. I’ll stop here, as things only become more interesting as time goes on.
As I’ve said before, I don’t like Hong Kong comedy. It’s loud, broad and obnoxious to me. In many ways, it is like American comedy back in the 30’s-40’s. I might be just throwing some guesses, but I couldn’t even watch the classic “Bringing Up Baby”. It’s not that these films aren’t funny, it’s just that I don’t find them to be funny. It seems like in so many kung fu flicks, I’m always complaining about the humor, whether it’s in the 2002 film “Drunken Monkey”, Jet Li’s “High Risk”, and Jackie Chan’s worst abomination yet: “City Hunter”. God, I hated that movie so much. I almost had to revoke my fan status. Luckily, Jackie Chan toned the comedy down for my next outing of his, “Police Story 2”. Hurray! “Magnificent Butcher” relies on slapstick comedy, circumstantial humor, ironic genre moments, and a few amusing homage’s(When the beggar gets drunk at one point, the Popeye theme plays). With the exception of the banana gag, and an awkward scene where Wing is embarrassing himself in front of a girl(it does have its moments though), I laughed almost every time at the films silly antics. But the big shocker is that this film gets REALLY dark at times. I never expected to say that within an hour of Sammo Hung slipping over a banana peel, you’d have a vicious, attempted rape in the same movie. I suppose many people would complain about this, but I took it in the same way I took “Red Lion”. It’s blend of silly comedy and tragic melodrama make it multidimensional, so the film effects you on multiple levels.
But who cares about all of that. You want to know the one, most important thing in Kung Fu films. Is there a potent love story…..lol, alright. Just kidding, although there is one scene that suggests a potential love story, you don’t get one. You really just care about the kung fu though, right? Well, my friends, you shall not be disappointed. The fight scenes come often, and they are all superbly choreographed and memorable. We’re surprised at how fast Sammo Hung can move, considering his weight. When we see others fight, it’s great too! Tak-Hing Kwan isn’t in the movie for very long, but damn his fight scenes leave quite an impression. I really want to see more of this mans work! The smaller stunts were awesome as well. I like how the Beggar drunkenly walks up the stairs, Tai-Hoi thinks he’s avoided his wrath, only for the Beggar to sort of fall/flip off the edge and right onto the table. It’s freaking awesome! That, in short, is what the fight scenes can be summed up as: Freaking awesome!
I watched the dubbed version, so the voices were pretty cheesy. Sammo Hung(Butcher Wing) proves he had everything Jackie Chan had, plus a few more pounds. He does lack Jackie’s looks, and he isn’t as fast moving or as strong as Jackie, but he’s close enough. He also tackles the dramatic scenes well. I need to watch more of this mans work. Mei Sheng Fan(the Beggar) is awesome as the drunken master, even having more to do than his predecessor. Hark-On Fung(Tai-Hoi) tones down what could’ve been an annoying performance and creates a truly hateful character. Odd, seeing a kung fu villain who is portrayed with subtleness. Hoi Sang-Lee(Master Ko) has the right presence. Apparently Yuen Biao has a small role, but I didn’t notice him. The reason why Yuen Biao probably never took off as well as Jackie or even Sammo is that while he’s good, there is nothing about his appearance that sticks out.
“The Magnificent Butcher” is everything I wanted in a kung fu film. Sammo Hung and Woo-ping Yuen direct this like pros, offering nice photography, awesome fight scenes, devastating drama and hilarious comedy. Words that rarely are associated with kung fu films. It’s not quite perfect, although it is close. My only major criticism is the ending. It didn’t feel like a proper resolution to the story. But oh well, the rest is great.
Violence: PG-13 worthy. Some really brutal stuff for its type, but not too extreme.
Nudity: You see a bit of a girls backside during the attempted rape. The film is probably R worthy overall.
Overall: “The Magnificent Butcher” is a must see for fans of kung fu, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan(it’s very similar to some of his films, just better!). I loved it, and I hope you do as well because it deserves to be a genre classic!
my reviews of martial arts and horror films