Magnificent Butcher (1979) Review

"Magnificent Butcher" Hong Kong Theatrical Poster

“Magnificent Butcher” Hong Kong Theatrical Poster

Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Writer: Wong Jing
Producer: Raymond Chow
Cast: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Kwan Tak-hing, Yuen Biao, Fong Hak-on, Lam Ching-ying, Chung Fat, Wei Pei
Running Time: 108 min.

By Numskull

Wong Jing penned this early Sammo Hung vehicle, but thankfully, someone else directed it. The fact that that someone else was Yuen Woo-Ping makes it all the better, but pretty much anybody would have been preferable. Alas, the film is still very uneven, filled with time-eating sketch comedy-type scenes and prone to sudden, drastic changes in mood. For me, the chief source of annoyance is the distinct lack of serious fight scenes for more than half of the film; Yuen was evidently still in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow/Drunken Master mode, and much of the action takes the form of elaborate physical comedy. (Yes, I am aware that a great deal of effort went into the planning and execution of these scenes. No, I don’t care.) Only after an hour has elapsed does the action really kick in, with Sammo’s fellow students, two relatively minor characters, ironically getting the best fights in the movie.

Spoilers now, people. Afterwards, Sammo fights…well, just beats, actually…Fung Hak-On, whose numerous acts of thuggery include the kidnapping of a woman (whose husband doesn’t bother to tell the cops), the attempted rape of his step sister (making a tremendous amount of noise in the process, which doesn’t seem to bother the sleeping couple in the next room), and the murder of Sammo’s brother (thus setting up the 3rd oldest king fu plot hook in the kung fu plot hook book…right after “Murder: Teacher” and “Murder: Paternal Figure”). Then we have the fight against Wildcat, for which you may want to turn the sound off, and then the final showdown against Fung Hak-On’s father, which, for all its impressiveness, contains too much tomfoolery for my taste, and is somewhat anti-climactic as well (see also: The Prodigal Son). I won’t argue with anyone who hails Magnificent Butcher as a classic, regardless of my being underwhelmed. I enjoyed it, but I can think of a bunch of martial arts movies that I enjoyed more. Maybe I’ll go watch one of those. Bye.

Numskull’s Rating: 6/10

By JJ Hatfield

Master Wong Fei – hung has problems with one of his students despite having warned the student many times before about causing trouble. It was meant to avoid even showing kung fu unless being threatened or to help others. Master Wong has run out of ideas and patience after yet another incident of fighting the issue is brought back to the school. Wong is forced to ban Lam Sai-wing from being his student or being at the school.

Lam sets out to help anyone he can and doesn’t mind showing his skills. He means well but before long he is mixed up with the Five Dragons School and is accused of murder. Lam will have to overcome his weak points and train to learn a new form in order to fight his enemies. (… a deja vu moment. I think I must have written the previous sentence a thousand times.) Lam will need help from an old Master who is, shockingly a drunkard.

There are several loosely connected sub plots that are pulled into mostly coherent explanation by the end of the movie. Sometimes this movie drags a bit, especially early on. The humor is better than average for Sammo’s old school flavor. There are good times and bad but Sammo includes something amusing to break up the intensity. At times that is really annoying.

This film can boast it has it all – action, drama and comedy, not necessarily in equal doses. “Magnificent Butcher” has moves you may have not seen anywhere else. Props are used as weapons or in defense. This addition allowed for a number of different angles without being shot too tightly. The viewer can see Sammo do his stuff and he is astounding in speed and agilty despite appearing flaccid and pudgy. There are five choreographers and that doesn’t include Sammo or Yuen Woo Ping, with Yuen Biao being listed first.

After another viewing it remains damn good!. Great? Not quite but close.
Yuen Biao is fantastic! If you have seen “Dreadnaught” or “Knockabout” you already know how amazing Biao truly is as he fights, flips, leaps and tumbles! He certainly doesn’t disappoint in this one and has a long fight sequence where he is fighting the villains who attack the school while Master Wong is away. Sammo goes up against a fighter using the “cat” style. This form is not present very often as it is difficult to make it look cool on the screen. Even in this fight there are humorous moments, however it is one of the more bizarre displays of the Cat Style. Lam must learn a new form if he wants to get revenge while taking out the bad guys.

Along the way there are plenty of action sequences and precision duels. I use the term “precision duels” to describe scenes such as the first confrontation Master Wong has with the villains School Master. It was a fight and a lesson using primarily a writing brush! What some people consider to be the original Wong Fei – hung, (Tak – Hing Kwan) is in the film at the beginning and the very end. Kwan played Wong Fei – hung from the 1940‘s and remains a much loved figure.

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Vic Nguyen

Sammo Hung Kam-bo headlines this incredible martial arts adventure, based on the exploits of Wong Fei-hung student Butcher Wing. Here, Hung stars as the good hearted Butcher, who can never seem to avoid trouble, either with the law, with rival kung fu masters, or with his own legendary sifu. Featuring light doses of comedy, an all star cast (including Lee Hoi-san, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-ying, and the late, great Kwan Tak-hing), and some of the best martial arts battles you’ll ever see, this is another old school masterpiece that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. Directed by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 9.5/10

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One Response to Magnificent Butcher (1979) Review

  1. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    The role portrayed by Fan Mei Sheng a Shaw veteran actor as the drunken beggar that taught Sammo, was originally intended for SimonYuen. Simon Yuen is of course Yuen Woo-Ping’s father and better known for his characters in ” Drunken Master “, and ” Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow “. Two All-Important films in which a young Jackie Chan displays his kung fu comedy style. If Simon had a chance to shine in ” The Magnificent Butcher “, the film could have been better for it. As is it is a good film! Great reviews guys.

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