AKA LIN SHI RONG
AVAILABLE IN THE ‘THREE FILMS WITH SAMMO HUNG’ BOXSET, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 113 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Butcher Wing [or Porky Wing, Lam Sai-wing] is one of the students of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung. When Wing’s long-lost brother Lam Sai-kwong arrives in town with his wife Yuet-mei, Ko Tai-hoi, the son of Master Ko who runs the rival school to Fei Hung’s, lusts after Yuet-mei and kidnaps her. Sai-kwong assaults Tai-hoi, threatening to murder him if he doesn’t free Yuet-mei. Butcher Wing witnesses this, and, not recognizing Sai-kwong, drives Tao-hoi off. Sai-kwong is unintentionally saved from suicide by the wily drunkard Beggar So. So confronts Tai-hoi, who says that it was Wing who took Yuet-mei. So and Wing fight, after which Wing asks to meet this supposed brother of his. A reconciliation takes place – but then Wing, Sai-kwong, and So realize that Tai-hoi still has Yuet-mei so they set out to rescue her….
So The Iron-Fisted Monk was a hit, but its success was nothing compared to the sensation caused by the Jackie Chan starrers Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, and loads of imitations of those two films flooded out. The Magnificent Butcher, which had the same director as the afore mentioned films Yuen Woo-Ping, is definitely one of these, though it can also be seen as a kind of sequel, seeing as it not only has the Drunken Master himself return [though played by Fan Mei-sheng after Yuen Siu-tien, who was set to reprise his role as Beggar So, died of a heart attack], but also features the legendary Wong Fei Hung whom Chan played in Drunken Master, but this time in the form of the considerably older Kwan Tak-hing who’d already played Fei Hung in no less than 70 [yes, 70] previous films. Hung’s character was also again based on a real person, one of Fei Hung’s students, as was the one played by Yuen Biao, whose character Leung Foon he would reprise years later in Once Upon a Time in China where Jet Li played Fei Hung. Having trouble keeping up? If you are I don’t blame you, the combination of all these real life people and all these movies gets pretty complicated, a term one could also use to describe the plot of The Magnificent Butcher. My synopsis of the first third should tell you that a hell of a lot goes on in this movie, even if it still features the typical themes of revenge and battling martial arts schools. Those who claim that all these films have the same, really simple story must not have had much experience in the genre, because sometimes the plots get really involved and even hard to follow. The writing pedigree for this film is quite interesting – Edward Tang went on to script many of Jackie Chan’s greatest efforts, while Wong Jing soon after became known as the Chinese Roger Corman for his ability to crank out loads of cheap and cheerful products.
So did The Magnificent Butcher turn out to be another cracking kung fu flick like The Iron Fisted Monk? Hell yeah it did! It’s easily the best of the Drunken Master imitations that I’ve seen, and gives that classic a real run for its money. If you loved that, then you’ll love this, with incredibly intricate martial arts sequences combined with lots of laughs. But there are a few differences. As I mentioned before, the story line is rather more convoluted [but not to the point where you lose track of what’s going on unless you leave the room for five minutes without pausing the film], but Hung’s liking for extreme tonal changes which for many mar The Iron-Fisted Monk is also present, if not to as great a degree. Some deaths are quite vicious and there’s some tragedy, plus a lengthy sequence where a bad guy is chasing a woman round a room trying to rape her, slapping her about and then accidentally killing her [the treatment of women in Hung’s movies has often been criticised] – yet this is also a movie where one combatant employs the cunning technique of farting at his opponent, and where a blind beggar mistakes a water vase being held by Hung as a toilet and urinates in it. I found the film hugely entertaining, yet the seriousness of some passages ensured that I cared about the protagonists and wasn’t just watching a nearly two hour succession of brawls. Just don’t try to make sense of everything. For example, I mentioned earlier that it’s a sort of sequel to Drunken Master, yet, while Fei-Hung is several decades older than before and has grown up to be more the noble, serious character that he’s usually portrayed as [well, could Tak-hing have played him any differently, and what a thrill it must have been for Chinese audiences to see him return to the part – imagine Sean Connery appearing as Bond again!], Beggar So scarcely looks any older!
As with The Iron-Fisted Monk, Hung is very much the typically mischievous Chan-like protagonist. Wing is introduced slipping on a banana skin, causing the dead pigs he’s carrying to fall onto the table of a nearby butcher. He then cleverly cons the other guy into giving them back and inadvertently giving him some other pigs too. Then he beats up an old man who robs someone else, even though he only stole a rook [or a chariot if you watch this subtitled] from a Chinese chess game. Small wonder that Fei-Hung [introduced of course by the Wong Fei Hung music theme] isn’t too happy with him, but Fei-Hung has a bigger problem to contend with when Master Ko turns up, understandably annoyed that one of his pupils has been sent home with lots of bruises. And now we get a scene of such incredible coolness which will make every martial arts movie fan grin from ear to ear. Ko kicks a chair that Fei-Hung is sitting on, but the calm, collected Fei-Hung remains in the sitting position and even apologises to Ko that the chair was already broken. This just provokes Ko more, and he attacks Fei-Hung, but Fei-Hung more than holds his own while simultaneously doing some calligraphy, the 74-year old Tak-hing performing some incredibly dexterous moves with only one extreme one looking like it was performed by somebody else due to a cut. Ko ends up with ‘RESPECT’ written on his forehead. Of course you know that this makes Ko more mad, but Fei-Hung then does an odd thing – he leaves for a bit just as things are heating up between the two schools. But then this is also a film where, for example, one character holds to to a man with a knife not really defending himself so he can easily get killed, and the killer opting to knife him in broad daylight outside, and the subsequent very public murder not being reported to the authorities. One just has to accept such things in a film like this, and they certainly don’t get in the way of the enjoyment.
There’s much mistaken identity stuff, but I was more looking forward to seeing Beggar Ho come back as he’s such a great character, and his introduction certainly doesn’t disappoint. Obviously totally plastered as usual, he’s hungry, and is trying to catch a chicken, but the only way he can do it is to pour chicken feed into his flask of wine, shake it all up, then pour a trail of it onto the ground, causing one particular chicken to break free of the chicken enclosure and gobble up the enticing combination before eventually passing out drunk right in front of So. Though the character has less edge in this film, Mei-sheng is every bit as good as So as his predecessor Siu-tien, and I couldn’t wait for his further appearances. The main crux of the plot doesn’t occur into about half way. Sai-kwong and So set out to rescue Yuet-mei and succeed in doing so, but they also grab another lady, assuming that she’s also a prisoner, but she turns out to be nothing of the kind. One can sometimes understand Ko’s anger, he’s not a totally evil sod – that’s left to his son Ko Tai-hoi, played by Fung Hark-on who did similar villainous duties on The Iron-Fisted Monk and many other films. Hark-on was always so good at portraying horrid characters you just love to hate. Tai-hoi frames Wing for a murder, though this part of the plot isn’t dwelt on enough to make us fear that Wing could be discovered and captured. Never mind, unlike in The Iron-Fisted Monk we get some full-on training before the final bouts. Humour is mixed in nicely for the most part, like when Wing soaks his hands in vinegar, burns his arms, rubs stones on his arms and cuts his nails with a huge knife in preparation for learning the Iron Fist technique [the exchange “Hey, you got a powerful fist”. “You wait till you see my Iron Fist” almost epitimises the traditional martial arts movie in all its glory] – before realising that he got food preparation and training rather mixed up. This is understandable – after all, So’s words can easily be misinterpreted, though he does somehow stop someone from hanging himself even though he seems totally unaware that this is what the other person is trying to do.
So doesn’t fight much in the Drunken style where he swayed about and looked just as likely to collapse on to the ground during a fight as best his opponents with the unpredictability of his method. Instead he fights more conventionally, though that’s not to say that his battle with Wing is not an amazing display of skill full of surprises where you just don’t know what somebody is going to do next. One simultaneously chuckles when Ho is on top of a table and Wing is under it, and marvels at how much mileage is got out of the idea, and how skillful the folk we’re watching are. Throughout the film, the portly Hung seems to actively defy gravity with his ability to go from back flips to delivering tornado kicks in the bat of an eye. But, while his climactic duel with Lee Hoi-sang [another perennial bad guy] most certainly delivers the excitement you want from a final fight, and expertly makes the viewer aware of most of the techniques that are being shown, for me the most mind boggling and brilliant fight features Hung’s Peking Opera childhood buddy – and I don’t mean Chan. I mean the perennially under-appreciated Yuen Biao, an incredibly talented guy who in terms of athleticism at least was better than Chan, but who never quite broke out as a major star on his own despite the number of movies that he made. When Biao faces off against a fan-wielding Lam Chin-ying [another recognisable face, this film’s full of them], he spends a good portion of the fight with one leg in the air while still effortlessly shifting from one stance to another and making it all look so darn easy. One can do little else but marvel, especially when there’s very little obvious wire work, while the film even turns its most absurd character, Wild Cat – who not just fights but acts just like a cat – into someone who seems really lethal.
This time around Hung gives a solid dramatic performance, while Woo-Ping keeps things consistently pacy and provides a few quirks like some voice-over on two instances and a series of flash cuts to introduce Ko when he turns up for the final fight. In terms of film making, The Magnificent Butcher is probably an advance on Drunken Master, though it does lack one thing that was, and still is, a major ingredient in the latter film’s popularity. Despite all its antics, it also had a strong heart in the evolving relationship between Fei-Hung and So. This doesn’t really come through with Wing and So in this film, though this is partly because there isn’t time for it. All in all though there’s very little for the traditional martial arts movie fan to complain about here and a tremendous amount for him or her to enjoy. Thanks to Eureka, I’ve now seen another solid gold carat classic of the genre that I can pull off the shelf to show people what this genre is all about, and what it can achieve. I loved it.
If anything, the transfer of The Magnificent Butcher is even more impressive than that of The Iron-Fisted Monk. I didn’t notice any soft edges around the frame this time. Everything is mostly very crisp, detailed and clear. Colours and grain management are excellent. The odd shot looks iffy, though this can be attributed to print damage. I have no real complaints at all. As before, I watched most of the film with the ‘classic’ English dub with occasional switches over to the other dubs. This unsurprisingly revealed some differences, though a bit less than The Iron-Fisted Monk in terms of language. However, the alternate Cantonese dub reveals some interesting differences even going just by the portions I checked out. There’s some alternate music cues and different sound mixing. Now I was very much looking forward to the audio commentary from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema because earlier tracks of their’s that I’ve heard were excellent. This one didn’t disappoint. They clearly love the film and continually praise it, not always during the action either, and throughout their banter reveal some interesting and even strange facts, such as the head of Golden Harvest studios Raymond Chow having trained under the real Butcher Wing, there being little interest in kung fu in Hong Kong these days, and how in its films rape seems to be more acceptable than seeing a couple in bed even if they’re not doing anything. It’s rather sad to hear that new Hong Kong martial arts stars are thin on the round and that the film’s level of skill is rarely seen today.
Two more Hung interviews follow, probably from Hong Kong Legends releases. The first has Hung talk about how he was always fighting as a kid and was sent to the Peking Opera to give him some purpose, the relationship between him, Chan and Biao, and his early movie career. The shorter, second one has him mention how the film was easily put together, how he always likes to think of something new for people to see, and how American film-makers waste money, Hong Kong ones save money. The Woo-Ping interview, on the Hong Kong Legends DVD but probably done a bit earlier in Hong Kong seeing as Drunken Master 2 is mentioned as being about to come out, has the camera operator like to pan up really close to his face which can be irritating, while Woo-Ping sometimes ignores questions or is vague. Some of his directorial highlights are discussed though, and he says how his father, who would train him, would beat him but not nearly as viciously as his Peking Opera school teacher, and how his favourite genre is science fiction – though would you agree that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is like a Hong Kong action film?
THREE FILMS WITH SAMMO HUNG BOXSET SPECIAL FEATURES
*Includes O-Card slipcase
*Stunning 1080p presentation of all three films on Blu-ray, from brand new 2K restorations and in their original widescreen aspect ratios
*Original Cantonese mono tracks for all three films
*English audio options, all three films include the option of “classic” English dubs from the films original international releases, and the newer English dubs produced for later home video releases
THE MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER
*Alternate Cantonese mono track
*New audio commentary by martial-arts cinema authority Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema
*Interview with Sammo Hung [13 mins]
*Interview with Sammo Hung [7 mins]
*Interview with Yuen Woo-Ping 20 mins]