THE MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER brings together leading action directors Sammo Hung and Yuen Wo-ping in their only creative collaboration, along with an A-list cast of kung fu actors and a healthy amount of high-grade fighting throughout. The film begins with Sammo playing an uncouth lout named Lam Sai-wing, or simply Butcher Wing. He’s a student of legendary Hung Fist master and martial folk hero Wong Fei-hung. Kwan Tak-hing steps back into the mentor role after portraying Wong in the long-running Wong Fei-hung film series which began in 1949. After Butcher Wing beats up a man he mistakes for a thief, it leads kung fu master Kao (Lee Hoi-sang) to challenge Fei-hung. Just as things are settling down, Kao’s wicked son Tai-hoi (Fung Hark-on) kidnaps a woman who turns out to be the wife of Wing’s long-lost brother. More misunderstandings ensue as Tai-hoi pits the two brothers against each other. The woman is eventually brought home by Wing but he also nabs Kao’s goddaughter, Lam Hsing (JoJo Chan). This leads to tragedy when Tai-hoi turns his deviant thoughts to her and she winds up dead while still at Wing’s home. Tai-hoi puts the blame on Wing and Kao and his oddball cronies come looking for revenge. Wing is only saved by his two martial brothers and a drunken beggar (Fan Mei-sheng). Following some kung fu training with the beggar, Wing discovers that his brother has been killed by Tai-hoi. With Master Wong out of town, Wing seeks revenge and is forced to face Kao and his powerful Cosmic Palm technique alone. The film finds Sammo at the peak of his creative genius and physical abilities. It falls between WARRIORS TWO and THE PRODIGAL SON, two equally great kung fu movies. The hallmark of all of these gems is Sammo’s brand of irreverent comedy, memorable characters and martial arts action filled with some of the best southern fist kung fu and acrobatics. As in many a kung fu movie, the villains here are the most interesting. Lee Hoi-sang, with his bleached hair and Cosmic Palms (think Wonder Palm from Yuen Wo-ping’s IRON MONKEY) leads several fighters also worth mentioning. Yuen Miu plays a pole-wielding Monkey King look-alike with superb acrobatic styling. MR. VAMPIRE star Lam Ching-ying is looking like a ’70s rock star as a fan-wielding fighter with pasty skin and shaggy hair. He has an outstanding duel with Yuen Biao. Biao is looking pretty drab in comparison, but there’s no one doubling for him as he flips and kicks with impossible ease. The last of the villains is the bulging-eyed Chung Fat who plays Wildcat, a feline fighter who mauls Sammo in one of the film’s most memorable and creative fights set within a funeral home. The final match between Sammo and Lee Hoi-sang is almost anti-climatic following the reign of vengeance Sammo brings down on a weak Fung Hark-on, especially since its played largely for laughs. But here we see an emphasis on fancy handwork which Sammo an Lee excel at. The film’s only real flaw is the excessively violent rape attempt and subsequent murder midway through that keeps the film from otherwise being an enjoyable, family-friendly kung fu comedy.
REVIEW: Magnificent Butcher, The (1979),
Fung Hak-on • Genre: Comedy • Genre: Kung Fu • Golden Harvest • Lam Ching-ying • Lee Hoi-sang • Sammo Hung • Yuen Biao • Yuen Woo-ping