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THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF AND THE SWORDSMAN follows the journey of a mystical blade as it passes through the hands of three ambitious men. As the interwoven story unfolds, they find that the blade possesses the power to dramatically change the fate of each of its owners. The Butcher is a simple man in love with a beautiful courtesan, but is rebuffed each time he approaches her. The Chef is a handsome loner obsessed with seeking vengeance for the slaughter of his family. The Swordsman, the son of a legendary warrior, is consumed by the desire to eclipse his father in both power and fame. Their stories comes full circle as each man takes possession of the mystical blade and discovers its double edge--- the great power it bestows is matched by even greater danger. Written by
Fox International Productions
A long-overdue antidote to the endless supply of self-important, tiresomely nationalistic costumers
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 tried this fast-cutting bullshiht with THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN, more or less ruining a story and trivializing characters that didn't deserve it, Wuershan's THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF AND THE SWORDSMAN is 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 children's 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 seemingly inexhaustible supply of self-important, tiresomely nationalistic, cast-of-millions costumers that have flowed out of the country for nearly a decade now. This is like a breath of fresh air, even if much of 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.
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