For a first film this is an ambitious project. Director Wuershan, who formerly made commericials, uses black-and-white sequences, split screen, music video, video game sequences, and animation. He explores and uses every way to tell his story. Showing much potential, the result is that The Butcher, The Chef and the Swordsman is not your average martial arts film. It is a tale of revenge, honor and greed told from the perspective of three misfits. It is not everyone’s cup of tea (or noodles), but if you are a fan of the genre then check it out.
After a rooster fight a swordsman (Ashton Xu) arrives kills a few and says he is looking for Fat Tang. In another village a hungry man (Masanobu Ando) steals food. The villagers chase him, but he falls dead at the fangs of a snake. In a third village the actors in a play accidentally kill a pig. The owner of the pig is the butcher (Xiu Xiaoye) and he wants financial compensation.
Six months ago the butcher goes to a brothel as he wants to marry Madame Mei (Kitty Zhang Yuqi). He is mocked and told to go find a woman who like pork. A mysterious man arrives on horseback. Everyone seems frightened of him. He goes upstairs to see Madame Mei. The butcher is knocked unconscious. He goes back to exact his revenge, but instead meets with more humiliation at the hands of Big Beard (mysterious man).
Still wanting his revenge on Big Beard, Chopper (the butcher) struggles on then runs into a man with a cleaver. He wants to use the cleaver to kill Big Beard. The man tells him the cleaver is not for killing and proceeds to tell him the story of the cleaver.
The food thief actually did not die after the snake bit, but is rendered mute. A young boy convinces the villagers to keep him to work in the restaurant’s kitchen. An army arrives and tells the owner of the restaurant they are to cook for Eunuch Liu. If he doesn’t like it they will all be killed. The mute makes a soup in the place of the young boy. A master chef takes the mute on as his pupil. He demonstrates himself to be good with a cleaver. The master teaches the mute about the secret Eighth Course. To make it you need a special cleaver. When eating the mute’s first meal he says he knows that there is poison in the food. The mute, who is actually able to talk, tells him the story of his life and his quest for revenge.
The samurai finds out the old man is Fat Tang, the greatest swordsmith. He shows him an iron box and the old man gets emotional. The mysterious samurai is Dugu Cheng, son of Dugu. He dug up his father’s grave to get the black iron. He wants to become the greatest swordsman and wants the old man to melt down the black iron to make him a sword. Dugu Cheng gets his sword but is still killed.
After listening to all these stories/warnings Chopper still does not heed them and takes the cleaver to go to the brothel and aims to kill Big Beard with it.
Despite the back-and-forthness in which the story is told if you give it a minimal amount of concentration you will find it easy to follow along. It is a story within a story within another story. Stick with it if for no other reason than to see the stunning cinematography. The colours come exploding off the screen and really engaging your eyes and mind. Yes, there are plenty of gimmicks, but they are a lot of fun and do add to the film.
The weakest part of the film is the story. Actually two of the three stories are not very good. The story of the man/mute seeking revenge is the strongest with the other two just really being window dressings.
This is a look at a time past in China and is highly stylized. The entire film is over-the-top but still is rather unique and interesting. A story involving love, humour, sadness, and wisdom. Shows you how greed to bring great personal harm.