The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman Wuershan

The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman Wuershan
The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman has one foot in the past and one in the present, with its framework tied to the historical martial arts epic and its style hyperactively contemporary. The film contains nods to Chinese opera, wuxia, ghost stories, revenge tales, swordplay, cooking and acrobatic comedy, acting almost as a visual iteration of a Chinese popular cinema text. The first feature from Chinese television commercial director Wuershan (shepherded to North America by Swingers director Doug Lima), The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman is the type of film that throws all it can muster at the screen, hitting most of its targets. Butcher tells the intertwined, cross-generational story of the three titular heroes, and the enormous black kitchen cleaver that unites them. "The Butcher" (Liu Xiaoye) is a corpulent dumbass, with absurdly huge sideburns, who falls ass-backwards into the favour of a beautiful courtesan. "The Chef" (Masanobu Andô) is a food wizard playing mute in order to exact revenge upon the lord that slaughtered his family. "The Swordsman" (Ashton Xu) is doing what a swordsman does best: searching for a mythical sword. Butcher is a bait-and-switch film where characters expected to fade into the background become key narrative puzzle pieces when a crucially withheld piece of information is revealed. Wuershan's bait-and-switch also occurs in the way the film shifts back and forth from mind-blowingly creative sequences, such as the breathtaking animated rendering of the death of the Chef's family, to irritating throwaway bits seemingly added to test the viewer's patience. The film's biggest problem is that Wuershan's quick-cutting, "edgy" style is almost totally devoid of actual style. The director's pedigree is all too evident, with his camera in constant motion, seemingly still acutely aware of a potential channel flip every 30 seconds. The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman's kitchen sink methodology results in an original and fun to watch film, to be sure, but it's an unfocused, rabid child as well. Sitting through the whole thing feels almost like babysitting. (Fox)