The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 27 March 2011
“A swordsman’s blade brings only sorrow… a chef’s blade brings happiness” opines the wise old chef, imploring his successor to abandon thoughts of revenge and run the restaurant. The maxim, albeit ignored, comes at approximately the point at which this film raises its game from a mere two-star, Tarantinoesque assault on the senses, to something engaging and almost clever.
It’s hard to know what to applaud or deride. Is director Wuershan simply being greedy with his first feature, leaping from high-def black and white to naïve animation to surrealist drama to crass pantomime, without giving us a moment’s breath? Or is this in fact a desperate smash-and-grab, because he doesn’t have an original thought?
All frantic camerawork, clamorous soundtrack and luscious production design, this is a surprising change of scene (and pace) from the Chinese martial arts flicks of recent years. The music in particular pushes our buttons – mixing clichéd classics (Carmen), with bursts of heavy rock at ridiculously inappropriate moments, and the jaw-dropping vision of a portly madam and her concubines performing a distressingly catchy hip-hop number for absolutely no reason.
Ostensibly the three-part tale of the provenance of a butcher’s cleaver, we get the best of “Masterchef”, some exhilarating swordplay and even a few laughs into the bargain.