Movie Review: ‘The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman’

Dong Lifan as the Keeper of the House of a Thousand Flowers in the movie "The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman."
(China Lion Film)
Special to the Los Angeles Times

In the martial-arts/action film “The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman” (“Dao Jian Xiao”), the debut feature from Chinese director Wuershan, three tales intertwine around a legendary sword as it passes from owner to owner. Each of the three stories -- about, as you might guess, a butcher, a chef and a swordsman -- is meant to represent, in turn, ignorance, vengeance and greed.

Wuershan, whose background as a commercial director makes itself apparent in the same negative way as with many American and British advert directors, creates a fussy, overly busy visual style for the film, manically cutting so that geography often becomes a mere abstraction and the deep tones of the wildly expressionist lighting distract at times from everything else.

The performances are equally mannered and over the top, the performers hopelessly mugging as if to gain a viewer’s attention amid the swirling chaos.

Wuershan’s heavy hand, never letting up for a moment to allow any air or life to enter the film, cuts off the film’s energy even as it rattles relentlessly on. Not even the action flows well, feeling choppy and jarring rather than smoothly energetic, robbing the film of the fluid kineticism that often makes Asian action cinema such a pleasure.