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Magnificent Butcher, The

Fox // PG-13 // July 22, 2003
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted July 14, 2003 | E-mail the Author

Magnificent Butcher (1979) is a martial arts classic by the prolific and groundbreaking talents of star Sammo Hung (Prodigal Son, Pedicab Driver, Encounters of the Spooky Kind, Eastern Condors) and director/choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (Iron Monkey, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Drunken Master). Typical of the time, it is part of the standard and formulaic Drunken Master comedy/action clones, though, it is one of the better ones.

Butcher Wing (Sammo) is a hapless but well meaning kung fu student of Wong Fei Hung (veteran Kwan Tak-Hing, who played Wong Fei Hung in hundreds of films). Wing has already accidentally spurned bad blood between himself and the rival martial school led by Master Kao (Lee Hoi San, Buddhist Fist, Warriors Two, Project A). Then, things get worse as Wing's long lost brother and his wife come to town and are accosted by Master Kou's son, Tai Ho (Hark-On Fung, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, Last Hurrah for Chivalry). With the aide of a drunken master (Fan Siu Ming, Young Master, Eagle's Killer), Wing and his brother tussle with Tai Ho and what unfolds is a complex chain of events that lead to murder, a frame up, and eventually, Wing having to face the fearsome Master Kou in battle to avenge his family.

Comedy and fighting. Fighting and Comedy. Sammo's strengths are on display. While you can catch him being doubled in a few tricky far away shots, it is mainly an all-Sammo affair doing acrobatics and intricate choreography that would make any dancer awestruck. Sammo seems so much more impressive than say someone like Gene Kelly, because Kelly was trim and athletic. You look at Kelly and his healthy shine and frame and never doubt for a moment he could dance the way he did. Whereas a no-handed cartwheel being done by someone with Sammo's squat round body seems to defy logic. Also just as impressive and somewhat doubled (but he was a senior citizen for Pete's sake) is Kwan Tak-Hing in an all too brief but impressive calligraphy meets martial arts fight between Fei-Hung and Master Kou.

What Western eyes would see as a stark contrast, at times the film is as brutal as it is silly, something HK audience seem to embrace more. Tai Ho's attempted rape and eventual murder of his own sister is pretty intense. The only realy big negative for me is that I'm not a real big fan of Fan Siu Ming, a primarily comedic fat man without Sammo's agility or acting chops, who was usually relegated to supporting roles in tons of films. Here he is a bit more annoying since he is playing the standard drunken master and substituting for the man who defined the role, Simon Yam, who died shortly before the film was made and was far more charismatic as the scruffy perpetually sloshed master.

While certainly both Woo Ping and Sammo have made funnier films or films with more impressive fights, they are the top drawer talent of the genre. Measured against most of the films that came out around the same period and the number of Drunken Master/Snake in the Eagles Shadow copycats it is a far superior film. There is probably nothing goofier than Sammo mistakenly thinking his teacher is instructing him in Iron Fist technique, when really the teacher is telling him to cook pigs feet. Sammo soaks his hands in vinegar, shaves them, burns them, and then starts to consider chopping his fingers off as he is instructed. Just lower that IQ a little, sit back, and enjoy.

The DVD: Fox.

Picture: Anamorphic Letterboxed. Vibrant colors. Deep contrast with rich blacks. Healthy fleshtones. Some grain and soft sharpness quirks that are products of the film's era and budget. Mostly, it is an impressive restoration that is smooth and free of any glaring damage like spots lines, or general wear.

There is the possiblity that the aspect ratio is cropped, like the Hong Kong Legends UK print. The image didnt feel too squeezed and the action never felt hindered. But, the only way I'd watched the film before was on vhs, so, naturally it is going to look great in comparison. Based on screenshots floating around on the net, a different/corrected source was used for this US transfer because the defintition is better than the UK edition.

Sound: English or original Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks with optional English or Chinese subtitles.

Catonese. For me, the preferred track. While there is only so much you can push an old mono mix, the presentation here is very good, eliminating troublesome age quirks like hiss and pops. While it is pretty thin in terms of both vocals and especially the music track, these are all products of the films time and I doubt they can be improved upon much more than the job they have done here.

English. Being a newer track, the audio here is much stronger. But I found the voice acting to be terrible, as it usually is, but most of all the mixing is a bit overpowering. In beefing up the vocal track, making it more dynamic with some deep bass, they also drench the sound fx and music score. The vocals, for my ear, were just way too up front and not as pleasantly mixed as they are in the Canto track.

There may be some complaints over the sub or "dubtitles". The translation has a British slant, using words like "Arse". I find the subs to be fine and I far prefer a little Eurospeak to the old fractured, ill-translated English HK subs. The subs dont translate a few signs in the movie which ruins a few gags.

Extras: The UK HKL edition is a true special edition complete with interviews, deleted scenes, and commentary. For this US import these things have been lessened considerably, whittled down to a basic presentation minus the real SE perks.--- Chapter Selections--- Two Magnificent Butcher trailers (original and new), plus trailers for City Hunter, Hong Kong 1941, The Transporter and Kiss of the Dragon.--- Photo Gallery--- "Amazing Sammo" music video, a weird montage of Sammo clips set to music.--- Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo Ping text and photo bios--- Original Promo Materials--- Production Notes (Synopsis, Cast and Crew list, and Sammo filmography)

Conclusion: While it lacks the choice extras available in the UK, considering the lack of old school martial arts special editions in the States, it is nice to have some decent extras- period. So, it is a cost effective and fantastic alternative for the non-all region HK film fans who want decent transfers. Hopefully, in the future they can include a few more extras (and we die-hard fans can quit importing). While it isn't the best of Sammo's work, it is still a solid film in both his and Yuen Woo Ping's resume and absolutely purchase-worthy to those fans of the fisticuffs flailing fatman.

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