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M (2011)
The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 12/14/2012
Summary: Too cute

Wuershan had been a successful and sought after director of television commercials before he was tapped to helm his first feature, “The Butcher the Chef and the Swordsman” and it looked as if he fell in love with every trope, device and cinematic trick he found. Overhead angles, Day-Glo colored lyrical scenes, cartoon interludes, a swordfight shown as a video game are all tacked together with the whiplash editing of music videos from twenty years ago. Each part of the triune story is connected to the others by a magic cleaver that all three possess and that has the power to change the life of whoever has it.

The clichés come thick and fast; there are more clichés than grains of sand on the beach or stars in the sky. They included the pig butcher that looks like a pig, a sensuous dance by a courtesan to the "Haberna" from Carmen and an evil swordsman who appears out of nowhere. It is so chopped to pieces that Wuershan may as well have used the cleaver to edit his film.
Animated sequences breakup the main narrative and onscreen graphics are used to show a character’s intentions and state of mind, much like a recitative in Baroque opera are utilized to give the audience a glimpse into the thoughts of a character. There are postmodern winks and nods, such as when the butcher slashes the graphic for "The End" because he wants the movie to continue.

“The Butcher the Chef and the Swordsman" is a visually attractive mess, just interesting enough for one to keep watching an a valiant attempt by a first time director who was used to working in narrative arcs covered 30 seconds instead of 90 minutes.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Brian Thibodeau
Date: 11/02/2010
Summary: Far from original, but a welcome antidote to self-important mainland epics

The first few minutes of THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF AND THE SWORDSMAN gave me pause: the hip-hop-rock scoring, the one- and two-second cutting rhythms, the alternating between color, black & white, and artificially colored black and white, the use of kooky on-screen graphics. Everything just screamed that this would be a 90 minute assault on the senses from a director who probably had a lot of experience with music videos. And that's basically what it is, but where Hong Kong director Andrew Lau employed fast-cutting to little more than cosmetic effect in THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN, more or less ruining an intriguing story and trivializing characters that deserved better, Wuershan's THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF AND THE SWORDSMAN is unabashedly a gonzo story stocked to capacity with a grimy grotesquerie of characters that all but demand an addled directorial style to give them life. Expanded from a fiction piece from a magazine (according to the director), the movie is a story within a story within another story in which three cursed owners of a near-mythical blade (forged from a ball of iron originally melted down from the weapons of many powerful swordsman) relate in flashback the stories of the how they came to possess the knife. Reaching the third tale, the film then boomerangs back through the climaxes of each story to bring us back to the present. Sounds a bit like INCEPTION, right? Only with flashbacks instead of dreams. The two films were shot independently of one another, making the similarity in structure a pure coincidence. Everything but the kitchen sink is in here: a brothel madam and her charges berate "The Butcher" with a catchy modern-style hip-hop rap number (so yes, this is partly a musical!); crudely but cleverly animated childrens sketches illustrate "The Chef's" flashing back to his father being killed by a corpulent eunuch for not satisfying his finicky culinary demands. Duped by his beloved, "The Butcher" skirmishes with her true beau in a Streetfighter-like video game scenario, complete with life-meters and flashing scores. This is truly unlike any other film made in mainland China to date, and while I wouldn't want to see an abundance of punked-out period pieces like this from the country, it is a long-overdue antidote to the inexhaustible supply of self-important, tiresomely nationalistic, "look what WE can do" cast-of-millions costumers that have flowed out of the region for nearly a decade now. This is like a breath of fresh air, even if it was previously exhaled by the likes of Takashi Miike in Japan. The fact remains, nobody was doing anything this over-the-top in China, and one wonders if this picture won't mark a turning point away from action pictures that do nothing but thump their celluloid chests. Executive produced by BOURNE IDENTITY director Doug Liman, though I suspect he attached his name after the project was in the can, as the version screened at TIFF also had the full 20th Century Fox (Asia) logo attached.

Reviewer Score: 7