Magnificent Butcher (1979)

Credited to Yuen Woo-Ping, although some sources ascribe Sammo Hung a co-director credit as well as the starring role. A film very much of two tonal halves, with the first half being home to some occasionally bizarre comedy (e.g. the shudder-inducing toilet joke involving the directionally confused blind man) before a fairly abrupt shift into darker territory in the second. Story-wise, it’s kind of an appendix to the original Wong Fei-Hung film series starring Kwan Tak-Hing; in his mid-70s by the time this film was made, he turns in an amazing calligraphy duel early in the film that I suspect some performers a third of his age would give anything to be able to pull off. But this isn’t a film about Master Wong, who goes off on a trip early on and leaves his clinic in the hands of three of his students, including Butcher Wing. The latter has brought the wrath of Master Ko and his clan upon himself, and Ko’s son will only insist upon complicating matters as both Wing’s younger brother and Master Wong’s old associate roll into town; there’s going to be trouble involving all of them, and the younger Ko is determined to make Wing take the blame. The shift in tone between the two parts is problematic, though not enough to really be seriously damaging, and on the whole it’s an above-average example of the late 70s kung fu actioner; Hung is great in the lead, playing the sort of well-intentioned if not always terribly bright character he’d give us in films like Encounters of the Spooky Kind and The Dead and the Deadly, but arguably the true star of the show is the makeup-aged Fan Mei-Sheng as the uproarious pisshead Beggar So. And for what it may be worth, this also marks the third film in a row I’ve seen with Lee Hoi Sang, plus the second in two days with Hark-On Fung, who I appear to have seen in several films without ever knowing who he was…

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