I'll come right out and say it; I hate Jackie Chan movies. It's nothing personal and he seems like a real nice guy, but I absolutely hate the way he mixes kung fu with comedy. Like hardcore porn and musicals, there are some genres that shouldn't be put together. When I want to see some ass kicking, Jackie shouldn't be there hamming it up. He just isn't funny. Of course he isn't the only one guilty of this. Far from it. There are probably thousands upon thousands of these comedy-fu flicks out there and Magnificent Butcher is one of them.
If you picked up 10 random kung fu flicks, five of them would probably be about two rival dojos fighting it out. Magnificent Butcher is one of them. It features Sammo Hung as Butcher Wing, a chubby butcher who is also an aspiring martial artist. Through a series of misunderstandings he sets off a war between two rival schools and ends up being charged with murder. As we all know by now, this will all lead to more fighting and that somebody's honor will be tarnished.
It's a basic set up that is there to provide the framework for scatological humour and fight scenes. Magnificent Butcher has plenty of both. And you know what? Some of the humour is actually funny. A drunk chicken will always make me laugh no matter what the circumstances. And there's one great scene that shows Hung ready to chop off his arms for his drunken teacher. I won't spoil the punchline, but it did make me laugh. However, fart and piss jokes got old in the sixth grade and they aren't funny here either.
And what can I say about the fight scenes? In a word; amazing. The film was directed by Yuen Woo Ping, the guy who choreographed the battles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix. Don't worry, there's none of that 'wire-fu' here. It's all vaguely in the realm of humanly possible. I'm usually satisfied with one or two good fights in a movie, but Ping blew my expectations out of the water and delivered three amazing duels that I'd rank among the best I've seen. Seriously, he's able to make calligraphy seem like something that should be on ESPN 2. Thought I'm not overly familiar with his work, Hung deserves his share of the credit as he co-coordinated the fights and was an active participant most of the time as well. Sammo is good, but Ping is definitely the MVP of the film. He made Keanu Reaves of all people look credible, so I'd bet that the fights in this movie would have been good no matter what actor he worked with.
Some parts of the film may border on Godly, but it's not without it's faults. It takes over an hour for the plot to fully develop and there's ten minutes of material that probably should have been cut. Also, the fact that Sammo is a butcher barely factors in to the movie. It serves only 2 purposes; to give the film a cool title and an excuse to say "I'm a butcher. I kill pigs for a living", but it's worth it for a line like that.
Magnificent Butcher is a film that's worth watching once, but the fight scenes are worth watching over and over. If you like comedy with your on screen beatdowns, make sure you don't pass this one by.
There are many great kung fu movies, but good DVD's are hard to come by. Sure they may only cost you a few bucks, but the print quality will have your TV crying out in pain. Fortunately, Fox is trying to buck the trend. As those of you in Region 2 probably know, their Hong Kong Legends line of DVD's have set the standard for quality kung fu discs. Although they've dropped the HK Legends name, the quality has found its way to R1, but not without a few problems.
First off, the picture quality is damn fine, especially compared to the cheap DVD's. It gets a bit grainy during some of the darker scenes, but at least it doesn't look like an 8mm print that's been dragged through the mud, transferred to VHS and then bootlegged a half dozen times. The audio is 5.1 surround and comes in both English and Cantonese. I didn't bother with the English track as I've seen enough badly dubbed movies in recent years, but the Cantonese track sounds great. There are subtitles in both languages too.
The extras are nothing to sneeze at either. There's an incredibly cheesy Sammo Hung music video, cast bios that are actually good for a change, trailers, print ads and still photo galleries. It may not look like a lot, but I doubt there's a whole lot more they could add and I appreciate the effort.
But the disc isn't without its problems. Many of the HK Legends discs had some great commentary tracks, but they didn't make the trip to R1 for whatever reason. I'm not 100% sure there was one for Magnificent Butcher, but the fact the standard Fox legal disclaimer about commentary tracks is at the start leads me to believe there was. Too bad there isn't an actual commentary track to go along with the legal mumbo jumbo. There are also a ton of logos and disclaimers that can't be bypassed. We're all used to having them at the start of a disc, but they seem to go on forever. You watch them when you first pop in the DVD... and then you watch them again when play the movie. They also pop up in the extras, but there you can at least fast forward through them there for whatever reason. I swear, it's enough to make me want to bust out my 'Five Animals' style on the disc.