Magnificent Butcher Review
Made after the Jackie Chan classics, Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master, Magnificent Butcher is another traditional martial arts classic from the now legendary director Yuen Woo-ping (best known for his work on 'The Matrix'). Taking the lead role this time round is Sammo Hung (Eastern Condors) who excels in a role many would say he was born to play (and who am I to disagree?). That role is Lam Sai-wing, who is of course Chinese legend Wong Fei-hung's most famous apprentice and is responsible for most of what we know about Wong Fei-hung today (for those wondering what I am going on about Wong Fei-hung is a legendary character in Chinese History and is probably best known through Jet Li's portrayal in the 'Once Upon a Time in China' films).
The Magnificent Butcher of the title is Sammo's character, Lam Sai-wing, the reason for this title is that on top of being a martial arts master, Sai-wing was also a Pork Butcher. We don't actually see much reference to this in the film, instead 'Magnificent Butcher' is another example of classic martial arts action much like what we have already seen in the previously mentioned Jackie Chan classics. The story is basic, Lam Sai-wing (Sammo Hung) is framed for murder by a member of a rival martial arts school so he must clear his name by finding and defeating the real murderer. It is this basic story that serves as an excellent reason to showcase several outstanding action sequences, all of which are executed to absolute perfection by several of Hong Kong cinemas most prolific martial arts actors.
Sammo Hung is outstanding as Lam Sai-wing, both as an actor and as a fighter. What makes him even more outstanding is Sammo's stature as he is not as slender as the majority of action stars! Every fight sequence is exceptionally choreographed by Woo-ping who shows us both a comical style and a more serious take on the action. Sammo's stand out sequences are the Teahouse fight and the final showdown, both are superbly executed and involve some incredibly long takes that really show off the skill and timing required, they also manage to feature some of the comedic style that is more commonly associated with Jackie Chan. Other stand out sequences not featuring Sammo include a fight where Yuen Biao gets to show his fighting prowess, this sequence is far more serious in nature and so well executed that it has left me wanting more. Also worth mentioning is the opening 'Calligraphy Fight' that really shows off the originality that Woo-ping is now famous for, and again, is superbly executed and made even more impressive by the fact that one of the actors involved was in his eighties when 'Magnificent Butcher' was filmed!
Simply put, HKL have done it again. Presented in Anamorphic PAL at its original ratio of 2:35:1 this 22-year-old film looks absolutely gorgeous. Bar one sequence in the film every shot has a tremendous amount of detail with the absolute minimal amount of grain or print damage, whilst colour throughout the film is so striking it almost leaps off the screen! Now, that one sequence I mentioned comes at the start of the film and occurs during the 'Calligraphy Fight'. In this sequence the print has suffered from liquid damage and this essentially results in a few minutes of washed out picture, with a shimmering effect and due to the overall high quality of presentation it stands out even more than it would on your typical R0 Hong Kong disc. Basically I have never seen Magnificent Butcher in any previous incarnations but I find it hard to believe it ever looked this good - for a quick comparison of the films original state and its now restored state checkout the original trailer and HKL's promotional trailer and try and tell me you do not see an amazing difference.
Note: There is another slight fault with the original print that I am sure some will notice (like me). It occurs at the 80 minute mark (80:34 to be precise) and is basically a tear in the print on the left hand side of the image. This is the result of poor editing (when they spliced the footage to create the trailer!) and not the fault of the HKL DVD. Most will not even notice this as it lasts for all of 1 second! but I felt it was worth pointing out.
HKL have provided us with both the original Cantonese dub and the English dub, both of which are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo format. Whilst I have no surround facilities I can tell you that both tracks are well presented (meaning that they are both very clear with no noticeable hiss as may be expected from a film of this age) leaving you with the choice of your preferred language. For myself that would be the Cantonese Dub with the optional English subtitles (again, very well presented, as are the Dutch subs) although I guess the English dub is useful for a few laughs but, in this reviewers opinion, not much else.
This is another feature packed HKL DVD, the main attraction of which is the feature length audio commentary from everyone's favourite Hong Kong Cinema Expert, Bey Logan. Logan is again highly informative but in the case of this commentary, he surpasses himself by providing us with a well-presented history lesson on the legendary characters featured in this film, Lam Sai-wing and Wong Fei-hung. Occasionally he diverts from the history lesson to give us information regarding the films production, settings and actors but never does he become boring, mostly due to the fact that he emits an enthusiasm that makes listening to him so darn easy.
There are two interviews present on the disc, the first of which is with the lead actor, Sammo Hung. This interview focuses on how Sammo started in the industry, from his early life in the same Peking Opera school as Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, to his life as an actor and director. Although not exactly the same, this interview was featured on the Eastern Condors DVD, however this version runs around 3 minutes longer. The second interview is with the director, Yuen woo-ping. Again, this interview focuses on Yuen's entire life, from his early introduction to film via his father up to his work in Hong Kong cinema. Again, this interview can also be found on another HKL disc, this time the Iron Monkey DVD, but this version runs slightly shorter so is likely edited in places. Both interviews are superb additions to the disc and are highly informative and entertaining viewing.
There is an animated biography for Sammo Hung that runs for 22 minutes, labelled as Part One it is highly informative and covers Sammo's beginnings in the industry up to his 1985 film 'Heart of the Dragon'. We can expect Part Two of Sammo's story in further HKL releases (due October 2001). The second animated biography is dedicated to director Yuen Woo Ping, unlike the traditional biographies (text based, like Yuen Woo-ping's biography on the Iron Monkey DVD) this one showcases several scenes from his films including Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow with a voice over detailing Woo-ping and runs for just over 10 minutes. This is an excellent watch as it is just like sticking in all your favourite action films and skipping to the superb fight sequences!
Another common extra also present here is the Photo Gallery. This mostly comprises of stills from the film, but there is the occasional on set photo so it is worth a look.
The final extras available are all trailers. We get both the films original Theatrical Trailer which runs for over 4 minutes and as per usual with Hong Kong trailers, gives away far too much of the film and its action sequences. Only watch this after viewing the film, its main use is to see just how good a job HKL have done with the restoration job. Also available is HKL's promotional trailer, at one minute long this is a superbly edited piece that HKL should be using to advertise the film on television. Finally (or so you would think), there are 10 promotional trailers for other HKL DVD's.
Also present are two Easter Eggs, both of which are very easy to find. The first of these is a short text piece about the Magnificent Butcher himself, Lam Sai-wing, written by none other than Bey Logan. Although short it is another highly informative piece and I personally look forward to more Easter Eggs of this kind. The second Easter Egg is a selection of screens showcasing original photos of Lam Sai-wing, and the deleted scenes that are mentioned in the commentary.
As we have come to expect this is another outstanding release from Hong Kong Legends making this DVD the definitive version of 'Magnificent Butcher'. As for the film it really comes down to what your preference is regarding Hong Kong Cinema. If you are a fan of traditional martial arts with a little comedy thrown into the mix then this is a must buy, if however you prefer wire work martial arts or even the more hard hitting street fighting style seen in Bruce Lee films then it may be worth trying to rent this first. I myself am a fan of all Hong Kong cinema, so if you consider yourself the same then this is an excellent example of Hong Kong action at its very best.