Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Magnificent Butcher (Lam Sai-Wing, 1979)

Hello all you fans of the martial arts movie genre! Hai!Karate returns with a new film for you to check out, and this one ranks among one of the best and the most entertaining of the lot - The Magnificent Butcher starring the great Sammo Hung!!! Also making an appearance is the legendary Kwan Tak Hing, as well as Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying and Fan Mei-Sheng in this Golden Harvest feature. At the director's chair is the great Yuen Woo-Ping. There's some backstory to this feature, but we'll get to that shortly...

The Magnificent Butcher opens on a market scene as these flicks often tend to do. We come upon Butcher Wing(Hung) who manages to get into some hijinks as he makes his way throughout the market. But one of those episodes lands him in hot water with Master Ko Tan Bin(Lee Hoi-Sang) and his disciples. Master Ko, who is quick to anger, decides that this will be the chance he needs to give Master Wong Fei Hung(Tak Hing) his comeuppance. And there lies one of the most renowned scenes in kung fu movie history - Ko and Fei Hung's battle through a lesson in the "gentle" art of calligraphy.

Ko informs Wong Fei Hung of Butcher Wing's error and Wing is promptly punished as the master heads out of town on a trip to buy medicinal herbs. Meanwhile, a man by the name of Lam Sai Kwong(Chiang Kam) arrives in town with his wife Cheung Yuet Mai(Tong Ching) to look for his long-lost brother. Yuet Mai catches the eye of Tai Hoi(Fung Hak-On), the scurvy son of Master Ko. He hatches a plot and kidnaps Yuet Mai. Around this same time, Beggar So rambles into town - and I do mean ramble, as he falls out of a rickshaw. He happens upon a despondent Sai Kwong and promises to help him get his wife back. This soon leads to a run-in with Wing and Tai Hoi, who had deceived So into thinking Wing was the kidnapper. They wind up fighting - So giving Wing the business - and the truth is then revealed.

The brothers are reunited, and set out to get Yuet Mai back. But in the process, they unknowingly rescue someone else who Master Ko cherishes and set about a course of events that involve blackmail, murder and a eventual showdown between Butcher Wing and Master Ko. One that promises to be jam-packed with action!

The Magnificent Butcher is striking as a movie overall but can tend to be slightly plodding in some of the scenes. It's a real comedic vehicle and one that would lead to Sammo Hung gaining superstar power in Hong Kong cinema - and also spawn a few movies centering on his weight as a selling point. You do get a good grasp of his fighting prowess in the film in a comedic sense as well as the fight scenes thanks to good collaboration between he and Yuen Woo-Ping, especially the acrobatic elements. Now, I mentioned the fight scene between Wong Fei Hung and Master Ko. That scene pops so much because you have to take into account that Kwan Tak Hing was in his 70's and performed most of this scene without a stunt double. It was one of a handful of movies he did for the Golden Harvest studios, such as The Skyhawk which was reviewed here.That's not to say Lee Hoi-San was a slouch. He brings all of his skill to the foray from a lengthy career that saw him in various supporting roles including a highly visible stint at the Shaw Brothers Studios.(Side note - he originally was set to play a minor comedic role but in the second revision of the script, he was entrusted to play Master Ko.)

You may have noticed Beggar So is played by a different actor. Sadly, the man that made the role famous, Simon Yuen passed away right before production began. That prompted a script rewrite as well as re-casting, which brought veteran Fan Mei-Sheng into the picture. It adds another bit of fun to the film even though it must've been hard for Woo-Ping to see being that this was his father's famous role. Also in The Magnificent Butcher are decent turns by Yuen Biao and Wei Pak, formerly one of the Five Deadly Venoms. They get a bit of shine but not too much. This is strictly a Sammo Hung vehicle. All in all, you'll get a kick out of seeing The Magnificent Butcher. It's not a major must-see, but it's one all fans of the genre should peep.The DVD is widely available, and it is on YouTube. Bit of advice - look for the original version if you can if you want to avoid some bad voiceover work.


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