Wuershan's feature debut The Butcher, The Chef, and The Swordsman consists of three stories within stories. Butcher Chopper (Liu Xiaoye) pines for beautiful prostitute Madame Mei (Kitty Zhang) and resolves to kill the big bearded man, a brothel regular he thinks is preventing him from getting his woman. To do so, he needs the big cleaver carried by a loner (Ando Masanobu), who in turn tells him how he got the implement and its back-story. Though the bookending material is spazzier than the rest, the film is oppressive, a relentless barrage of cuts that makes Snatch look tastefully restrained, with an undercurrent of broad humor (farting, rakes being stepped on, face-smacking, etc.) that will be familiar to viewers of certain strains of lowbrow Hong Kong martial arts cinema, but is still tiresome. Sub-standard as action, the film will mostly appeal to native viewers, and commercial prospects are attendantly limited.
Chopper's story is tedious, with the heavy-set, brown-toothed, mutton-chopped butcher flailing and sweating his way through an obviously unsuccessful attempt to win over the unyielding courtesan. His segments are the loudest and least charming. Slightly more tolerable is Masanobu's segment, a cooking story about a young man who schemes to poison Eunuch Liu, a Jabba The Hutt-size gourmand who kills sub-standard chefs (including Masanobu's own father). In a segment full of food porn and dazzling knife uses, an amusingly undersize chef (Mi Dan) tortures Masanobu. It's also relatively restrained, "relative" being the only way to acknowledge that all manner of fecal matter and farting is on display.
The origin of the cleaver Masanobu plans to use for the murder gets its own back story —a nod, perhaps, to Pulp Fiction's segment where Christopher Walken tells the story of a watch. Here, the story of a master swordmaker summoned from retirement to make the perfect blade may emerge from Chinese cultural tradition, but it's got nothing on the genuine gravity of Tarantino's own take on the subject (Hattori Hanzo segment in Kill Bill), pastiche or no. When all the pieces finally come together at the end, the effect is less impressive than it is reminiscent of Wayne's World: multiple endings, no real impact or weight to either.
Distributor: China Lion Film Distribution/Fox International Productions
Cast: Liu Xiaoye, Masanobu Ando, Kitty Zhang Yugi, Ashton Xu and Mi Dan
Screenwriters: Wuershan, Zhang Jiajia, Tang Que and Ma Luoshan
Producers: Tang Xiru and Daniel Yu Wai-Kwok
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of stylized violence including some bloody images, brief crude humor and partial nudity.
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: March 18 ltd.