Review: THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, AND THE SWORDSMAN 刀見笑 (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 4 April 2011


RATING: 2.5/5

China goes gonzo in a rare occasion with THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, AND THE SWORDSMAN, a hyper-stylized genre cocktail unlike anything you've seen before. (Well, at least if you keep track for what kind of movie China usually released in the theaters these days).

As the title suggests, the movie centers on the three titular characters and how their lives involved with a magnificent meat cleaver in the Ancient China. In the first segment entitled "Desire", a butcher named Chopper (Liu Xiaoye) is deeply in love with Madam Mei (Kitty Zhang) and wants to buy her. But he fails to fulfill his quest when he is beaten by a swordsman named Big Beard (Senggerenqin) who also wants to own her as well.

The following segment is "Vengeance", where a midget chef (Mi Dan) is informed that Eunuch Liu (Xie Ning) will pass through in a month's time and eager to feast the chef's renowned eight-course meal. But preparing food and satisfy the taste bud of Eunuch Liu is not an easy task since anyone who fails miserably will end up being killed. So the chef decides to look for an apprentice among his candidates and he chooses a mute cook (Ando Masanobu) to take his place and passes his secret about the eight-course meal. During the trade, the chef is unaware that the mute cook is plotting for a revenge after all.

Lastly, it's "Greed", where the arrogant swordsman Dugu Cheng (Ashton Xu) is looking for a sword smith named Fat Tang (You Benchang) to help him melt down a lump of famed iron to forge into an ultimate sword. After making the iron into a sword, Dugu is set to become a top-class swordsman but finds himself in great danger when he tries to battle against an army of heavily-armed warriors.

Nevertheless, all three segments are eventually intertwined where we will subsequently witnesses the fate of the individuals getting their hands on the particular meat cleaver.

There are certainly a whole lot of energy and styles in this Wuershan's feature-length debut. As an award-winning commercial filmmaker, he knows how to employ a range of different creative styles to each narrative structure that keep the viewers busy with a sensory overload. You name it -- black-and-white animation, grainy 8mm film stock, musical numbers, and even a video-game like footage complete with depleting energy bars (I kid you not). Most of them work out reasonably well to its advantage, since the movie isn't mean to be taken seriously.

Which of course, An Changhe's non-linear screenplay is mostly an entertaining gimmick than a coherent whole. The plot is mostly a mess, but simply fun enough to watch for. While the "Desire" segment is somewhat annoying, complete with an equally annoying Xie Ning in his unfunny performance as Chopper, the movie is best seen for the "Vengeance" segment. Here, both Mi Dan and Ando Masanobu strike a perfect balance together, and the food-related scene is just as visually appealing. The scene in which the mute cook is chosen to prepare meal for the grotesquely obese Eunuch Liu is laced with terrific pitch-black humor that you wouldn't believe how that eunuch end up to his eventual doom.

Acting are mixed bag here, with the movie's most recognizable star, Kitty Zhang reduced more into a thankless cameo performance. Only those colorful cast from the "Vengeance" segment deserve most of the better recognition.

As playful as the movie goes, it's a shame that Wuershan prefers to frame his action sequence in tight close-up and jerky camerawork which makes them quite a nauseating experience.

THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, AND THE SWORDSMAN is a heavily uneven effort but remains entertaining enough for those wanted to watch something different.

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