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The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Dao jin xio

China 2010

Genre:
Comedy, Wuxia

Director:
Wuershan

Cast:
Liu Xiaoye
Kitty Zhang
Ando Masanobu
Senggerenqin
Xie Ning
Ashton Xu
You Benchang



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The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman

Story: Chopper (Liu Xiaoye) is a butcher who has fallen in love with Madam Mei (Kitty Zhang) when he saw her at a brothel. He saves all his money and eventually turns up at her place but Big Beard (Senggerenqin), a fearsome warrior, has already laid claim to her. Chopper isn't willing to be disheartened by this and wants to win over Madam Mei. He just happens to be lucky and run into a chef (Ando Masanobu) who has gone mad and carries a very powerful meat cleaver with him. But this cleaver has a long history as the chef wanted to use it to kill the eunuch Liu (Xie Ning) and take revenge for his dead family. The cleaver, however, isn't destined to kill anyone. Actually, it is made from the steel of thousands of weapons from famous warriors and the swordsman Dugu Cheng (Ashton Xu) forced the legendary blacksmith Fat Tang (You Benchang) to make a weapon from this steel. But the meat cleaver seems to have a will of its own...

Review: One of the most inventive Chinese movies of recent years is without a doubt this wacky debut work of Wuershan that eludes any attempt of definition. In its core a comedy the film focuses on three stories that are intertwined with one another and all have a powerful meat cleaver as a link. The movie is based on a short story by An Changhe and thanks to some smart twists proves to be much better in quality than one would have expected. All in all the film also scores with its visual charms, yet it remains questionable why the movie concerning its overall tone needs to go way overboard at some points with its supposedly funny inserts.

"The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman" tells three stories which all take place on a different timeline. While the stories are intertwined there are other stories within those stories as well. The creativity of the director seems to know no bounds. At one point one story is told with a badly sketched animation, another time the impression is created that we are seeing old video footage from back when silent films were just replaced. This all works out pretty well and even manages to be fun to watch if it weren't for ideas like a computer-animated reconstruction of an accident rehashing a certain event or the showdown that is visualized like a videogame fight. Those parts simply don't fit together.

Since we constantly jump to different timelines, you could easily worry that you soon start to lose track of what's going on. But that's not the case as director Wuershan puts a different kind of coloring into the foreground of each narration. While the first story is very colorful the last one comes across with very greyish colors. Furthermore, the stories are also introduced by a title. A big thumps-up goes to the cinematography and the visual creativity. The only thing that doesn't always work out, as already stated, is the mixing of old and new. To poke fun at a humoristic wuxia-story with modern computer animation just dooesn't work out if the movie despite its humor actually sees itself as a wuxia flick after all.

What's also eye-(or rather ear-)catching is the modern and hip soundtrack which, however, also includes a variation of Bizet's "Carmen". Strangely enough the music is what holds the film together and makes its unusual overall tone more precise. "Butcher, Chef and Swordsman" first and foremost wants to entertain and doesn't want to be taken too seriously. This is also apparent in Liu Xiaoye's overacting, which in fact manages to make you smile. The other stories, especially the one revolving around the chef, are more serious on the other hand, or maybe I should say the humor is more subtle. Well, not always, as can be seen with the eunuch eventually ending up in a pit latrine. Even though this in fact doesn't rank among the really wacky scenes. The comedy is at all times either hit or miss.

Although there are apparent parallels to Zhang Yimou's "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" there is no denying that "The Butcher" is the better film since the humor may be similarly - how to put this best? - Chinese but doesn't give us a hard time adopting to it and having fun. Yes, after the first twenty minutes of alienation, because you haven't seen something like this film before, Wuershan's work even becomes captivating. Why this movie is so likeable after all is hard to pinpoint because as already said a lot doesn't fit together. But seldomly you get to see such (visual) inventiveness. For this alone the movie deserves some kudos. Moreover, it's simply fun, that is if you can open yourself up to it. Still, what's strange is that of all companies Fox International has co-produced this film. It's unlikely that this movie will excite your typical western audience.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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