Encapsulated Cinema: The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman, Punished, and Kung Fu Chefs

The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman (2011)
Presented by Doug Liman, director Wuershan’s dizzying action/comedy is, in some ways, the “Moulin” Rogue of kung fu movies. It’s loud, it’s brash, and it’s often more irritating than it is entertaining. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here, especially if you love off-beat Chinese cinema. Which, as you may have guessed, I do. Stylistically, the film is all over the place; positioned right in the middle of the whole bloody affair is a rap song perpetrated by a freakish madam and her stable of nubile young ladies, a surprise to say the least. The story itself is divided into pieces, but all three tales are linked to a mysterious cleaver with unbelievable dicing capabilities. Not surprisingly, some stories are better than others — how the aforementioned weapon came to be is easily my favorite — but the narratives tie together nicely when all is said and done. “The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman” is sure to be a polarizing experience. I suspect that many will adore the flick, while others will claim it to be the worst movie they’ve ever seen. If you can imagine a kung fu movie written by the Coen brothers and directed by Baz Luhrmann, you’re definitely on the right track. Approach with extreme caution.

Punished (2011)
If you’re looking for a balls-out revenge flick loaded with bullet holes and dead bodies, Wing-cheong Law’s incredibly tense crime drama isn’t going to impressive you. At all. However, those of you who don’t mind spending some time with a character piece that experiences occasional bouts of brutal violence will be rewarded with a smart, deliberately-paced slice of revenge cinema. Anthony Wong stars as a dad who, with the aid of his personal bodyguard, sets out to find the nefarious individuals who kidnapped and murdered his daughter. However, instead of focusing on how many corpses it can pile up in the span of two hours, the film takes the emotional route, exploring how the father comes to terms with this truly unfortunate series of events. Don’t get me wrong — when Law decides to spill come blood, he doesn’t mess around. These moments may not be ridiculously stylish or covered in shell casings, but they have an impact, thanks in part to the picture’s focus on character rather than spectacle. Anthony Wong is, as always, fantastic, and it’s ultimately his performance that holds this one together. “Punished” is an intelligent suspense flick, one that requires a bit more emotional commitment than your standard revenge yarn. Very much worth your time.

Kung Fu Chefs (2009)
I love Sammo Hung, but even I have my limits. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what I expected from director Wing Kin Yip’s food-oriented action/comedy, but I thought it would be better than this. Hung stars as Wong Bing-Yi, a disgraced chef who returns to town after an extended absence to rejuvenate his mentor’s old restaurant. With the assistance of a talented young whipper snapper who still has much to learn about the ways of food preparation, Wong sets out on a mission to restore honor and respect to the beleaguered eatery. Although a few of the fight sequences are enjoyable in their own strange way, overall the film doesn’t have much to offer in the way of intentional entertainment. Hung is particularly terrible; he seems genuinely displeased to be a part of the production, and his lethargic expression rarely changes over the course of the picture. If you’re a foodie who feels there needs to be more martial arts mayhem in the kitchen, then perhaps “Kung Fu Chefs” is the right ingredient for your cinematic recipe. The rest of us, unfortunately, might be left with an extremely bad taste in our mouth.