After Jackie Chan’s success with “Drunken Master” (1978), Hung was scheduled to make a similar film featuring “Beggar So” character played by Yuen Siu Tien (aka Simon Yuen). As his elder, Sammo’s films were expected to surpass Chan’s in popularity. The film was “Magnificent Butcher”(1979), directed by Yuen Woo-ping, who also directed the aforementioned. However, during filming, Yuen Siu Tien died of a heart attack. He was replaced by Fan Mei Sheng and Yuen’s absence may have led to low ticket sales.
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The film is based on the story of Lam Sai-wing, one of the students of the legendary Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung. Hung plays “Butcher” Lam Sai-wing and Kwan Tak-hing plays Wong Fei-hung, a role he had played before in over 70 films. The film also features Hung’s opera “brother” Yuen Biao as another of Wong’s students, Leung Foon, a role he would reprise years later in the film Once Upon a Time in China, along with Jet Li.
The story of the movie is once more too complicated for its own good, in an effort to include much action and comedy, plus some elements of exploitation. Nevertheless, the main character is “Butcher” Lam Sai-wing, a student of Wong Fei-hung, and a young man who constantly gets into trouble, sometimes funny and sometimes more dangerous ones, with the latter mostly revolving around the Five Dragons School. After a number of his shenanigans, the master of that school, Ko, enters into a (literary) fight with Wong Fei-fung, but despite his unique palm technique, he loses.
When Fei Hung leaves however, leaving Leung Foon and Sai-wing in charge of the school (kind of), the members of the Five Dragons perceive it as an opportunity to act. One day, Sai-kwong, the long lost brother of Sai-wing comes into the area searching for his sibling, along with his wife, Yuet Mei. The couple attracts the attention of Ko Tai-hoi, son of master Ko, who tricks everyone and eventually kidnaps the girl. Soon, Beggar So also gets involved in the case, first as an enemy and then as an ally.
If the script is rather faulty, the same does not apply to the action, with Ping (with Hung’s co-direction) directing the talent of his actors in great fashion, and particularly of Sammo Hung’s, who thrives both in terms of comedy and action. However, the most impressive scene does not actually involve him, but Kwan Tak-hing as Wong Fei-hung and Lee Hoi-san as Master Ko, with the calligraphy battle being one of the most well-timed and performed I have ever seen in a martial arts movie. The second most impressive comes from Yuen Biao who fights Ching Ying in a rather brutal fight, with the third best being the one between Hung and Lee, although the humor implemented and the similarities with the final one from “Drunken Master” rather fault this one. On the other hand, the ones where the villain who uses monkey techniques is present, are simply annoying, particularly due to the sound, while the ones involving Fan Mei-sheng as Beggar So, linger towards the comedy.
Lastly, and in a concept that is brutal but actually made me laugh, Fung Hak On as Ko Tai-hoi plays the rapist again, after his role in “Iron Fisted Monk”
“Magnificent Butcher” suffers from an overcomplicated script, but the action scenes, and particularly the three aforementioned, deem it a more than worthy spectacle, that will satisfy most of the fans of the category.