The Butcher, The Chef and the Swordsman follows a group of misfits become mixed up in the struggle to own a deadly kitchen cleaver made from the top five swords of the martial arts world. Subplot revolves around a fat butcher who falls in love with a woman he can’t have. She is queen and seemingly unreachable at the town’s upscale brothel. Each of the stories is given a different approach: the Butcher’s is mostly slapstick, with exaggerated physical gags which will either have you laughing or groaning. This really is a love it or hate it kind of film.
This is truly unlike any other film made in mainland China to date, and while I wouldn’t want to see an abundance of punked-out period pieces like this from the country, it is nice to sit down and watch something unique from time to time. Mocked even by his own friend for his crass boldness, our Butcher is smitten to the point where class, looks, money, a full-blown rap number from the brothel matron are not deterrents. Everything just screamed that this would be a 90 minute assault on the senses from a director who probably had a lot of experience with music videos. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was your father’s Chinese film. The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman is on the cutting edge.
The film is a connection of three inter-twining stories. The first about a butcher who takes revenge on a swordsmen for taking his wife, the second is about a chef who has his apprentice makes an eight-course meal for the powerful Eunuch Liu. The final story is about a warrior with a powerful sword melted from other champion swords, but the sword does not work as expected during combat. There is sure to be something within those three stories that you can find enjoyable. It really is a film that tries to please a broad audience and I think it suceeds. It’s so exciting to find a Chinese filmmaker who has clearly made a name for himself with a film that is wholly original. Split screens, animation, 8mm film-stock and partially black & white photography keep things exciting and vibrant.
There’s certainly a lot to like in The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman — jealousy, lust, revenge, vintage kung fu clips and epic combat. This is like a breath of fresh air, even if much of it was previously exhaled by the likes of Takashi Miike in Japan or seems similar to a Stephen Chow film. Doug Limon is credited as a producer, and not just on the English poster similar to “Quentin Tarantino presents Hero” but within the opening Chinese credits. Not sure how the Bourne Identity director got mixed up in this but I am glad he did. Films like these only goes to show how far behind the curve the West still is in grasping the rapid evolution of Greater Chinese film-making. Thumbs up.