Magnificent Butcher

Magnificent Butcher (1979)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Kwan Tak Hing
Extras: Trailers, Cast & Crew Biographies

To most American viewers, Sammo Hung is simply the guy from "Martial Law, " the action packed television series that wowed audiences with its mix of action, comedy and martial arts. What few people realize is that Sammo Hung has been a long-standing superstar in Hong Kong cinema. He not only appeared in countless films, but also directed and collaborated on many of Jackie Chan’s most successful movies in the past. In "Magnificent Butcher" we get to see Sammo Hung as the main character of the film, as he faces the challenges of life. Thanks to Tai Seng Video Marketing we can now see this highly acclaimed film on DVD through direct import from Hong Kong.

Lam Sai-Wing (Sammo Hung) is an almost child-like, innocent student of the martial arts school of Master Wong Fei Hung, but for some reason, the young man constantly runs into problems with the rivaling kung fu school of the Five Dragons. Helping the weak, and good in his heart, Wing is entirely unsuspecting as Da-Hoi (Yuen Biao), son of the Master of the Five Dragons, plots against him. First Da-Hoi rapes Wing’s sister-in-law, then kills his brother and finally creates a set up, blaming Wing for the death of his own sister. Hot for vengeance, Wing begins perfecting his martial arts skills to face off against Da-Hoi, but even that won’t put an end to the constant challenges he is facing.

Like most Hong Kong films, "Magnificent Butcher" is filled with great humorous moments that give the film a light-hearted quality despite its actually quite critical social commentary. The exploitation of the weak and helpless, the abuse of power by those who have it and many other aspects are covered eloquently by the film, making sure it never feels like a flat comedy. The humor also helps to soften out some of the film’s dramatic moments. At its core, "Magnificent Butcher" houses a rather tragic story that is moving and thoughtfully prepared, firmly rooting the conflict depicted in the film in a world where Martial Arts becomes the final call.

The real star of the movie are the many fighting scenes however. A powerhouse in terms of its action and choreography, "Magnificent Butcher" is offering viewers staggering kung fu sequences and martial arts galore. The quality of these fights is among some of the best ever put on film and many will be surprised to hear that Sammo Hung himself was the stunt coordinator for this movie, along with director Woo-ping Yuen. Yuen, who has recently come to Hollywood fame for his work on "The Matrix," captures the moments with beautiful images that are very dynamically framed and edited, without ever creating a feel of artificiality. The movie feels authentic and all the kung fu you see in the movie comes across as powerful as any you have ever seen. Pay especial attention to the fight between the kung fu masters using only their paintbrushes as weapons.

Tai Seng Video Marketing is bringing "Magnificent Butcher" to American audiences as a direct import from Hong Kong. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. Sadly <$16x9,anamorphic> support for DVD has not yet taken hold in Hong Kong the way it has here in the US, but still the image quality of the presentation will certainly please connoisseurs of Hong Kong films. The film shows some signs of wear in the form of speckles and scratches and the occasional registration problem that causes the image to jitter slightly.

This is almost entirely made up for by the film’s clear and colorful presentation however. Rendering colors bold and beautiful, the film has a very natural looking quality throughout without discoloration or the faded quality found in so many import films of the time. Flesh tone are faithfully rendered and look natural at all times. The transfer shows a very good and consistent black level and very good highlights, which result in an image with good visually depth. No edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer and as a result no ringing artifacts disturb the picture, although noise reduction has been applied, which causes the image to loose some of its detail. Nonetheless, this is a good looking transfer that is much better than I had expected, and the fact that it has been carefully compressed, adds to the overall presentation.

"Magnificent Butcher" contains <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio tracks in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, but in this case, the 5.1 denomination seems to be referring more to the technical capabilities of the track than its actual channel usage. The audio has a very narrow frequency response without notable bass and I was unable to really spot any surround usage. As such, this is actually more of a mono audio track with some subtle stereo effects. In the context of the movie it doesn’t make much of a difference however, as the film works nonetheless and comes across nicely. The disc offers a variety of optional subtitles to complement the audio tracks. Although the English subtitles contained a number of spelling and grammatical errors, they are generally well done and never distracting. The DVD also contains some production notes and cast and crew biographies, as well as a selection of trailers.

For fans of traditional Kung Fu movies, "Magnificent Butcher" is a great film that has found a good home on this DVD. Compared to the hideously washed out VHS versions we have seen of this movie before, the DVD is a revelation with its strong color reproduction and the nice transfer. Fans of Sammo Hung have to have this DVD there can be no doubt, but I would like to urge everyone who is interested in seeing some spectacular Martial Arts work in a traditional setting to check this disc out. And if you thought "The Matrix" was kicking some butt, you definitely have to take a look at "Magnificent Butcher," if only to see how elaborately Woo-ping Yuen staged this film and the stunt work, combining it with an engaging, dramatic and highly tragic story.