The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman

The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman

Cast: Masanobu Ando, You Benchang, Liu Xiaoye
Director: Wuershan
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rated: PG
Running Time: 95 minutes

Synopsis: You're too greedy. Fate will catch up with you eventually." - Fat Tang

The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman follows the journey of a mystical blade as it passes through the hands of three ambitious men. As the interwoven story unfolds, they find that the blade possesses the power to dramatically change the fate of each of its owners. The Butcher is a simple man in love with a beautiful courtesan, but is rebuffed each time he approaches her. The Chef is a handsome loner obsessed with seeking vengeance for the slaughter of his family. The Swordsman, the son of a legendary warrior, is consumed by the desire to eclipse his father in both power and fame.

Their stories comes full circle as each man takes possession of the mystical blade and discovers its double edge - the great power it bestows is matched by even greater danger.

Release Date: 17th March, 2011
Website: www.chinalionentertainment.com







About the Production
"Off to fight again. What about dinner?" - Chunge

The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman is based on the short story "Legend of the Kitchen Knife." The story has a unique yet cyclical structure involving a series of stories that come into contact with a magical cleaver. The film defies genres; it is part martial arts, part comedy, part thriller, and part parable. The result is a multi-faceted film that successfully entertains on the surface while also exploring the Chinese-Buddhist belief of human vices, or poisons, on a deeper level. According to the philosophy, these three poisons are the root of human suffering.

The director, Wuershan, is a lover of storytelling, particularly parables as they are metaphors on life. His goal was to mesh this storytelling tradition with fresh, modern methods and "make a hundred minutes of film that keeps audiences glued to their seats and generates an enthusiasm in them." He brought his vision to life through this project and produced a film which he believes, in so many words, "combines an enjoyable watch, laced with good visual and audio effects, in addition to cinematic metaphors, and multi-leveled interpretations."

Crafting the Story
"...but this cleaver is not for killing." - Big Eight Chef

Wuershan worked with a team of writers, comprised of Zhang Jiajia, Tang Que, Ma Luoshan, and producer Tang Xiru for two years to develop the story and final screenplay. They started with the adaptation process, which took over 6 months. Next, the characters and storylines came together with the philosophy. The butcher, Chopper, represents the first poison, Ignorance, and is symbolised by the pig. The Mute Chef takes on the snake symbolism of Vengeance, the second poison, and the vicious Swordsman Dugu Cheng personifies the third poison, Greed, represented by the rooster. The three stories are interwoven, similar to the patterns crafted on the iron case holding the Swordsman's Black Iron. As a result, is a cyclical story rooted in the three poisons: Ignorance, Vengeance, and Greed.

Although adaptation was not an easy process, the biggest challenge was not posed by the storyline, but rather, the tone. Because Greed, Vengeance and Desire, are dark human vices, the challenge was to turn three heavy elements into comedy. The group worked tirelessly to finesse the humor. Producer Tang Xiru, invested an enormous effort into the story design to ensure that the original and edgy tone would shine through in the script.

Wuershan: Paving a New Direction
"It is a thrill to present this first time Chinese filmmaker to the international community."- Doug Liman

Producer Daniel Yu knows that "an entertaining film with a deep rooted theme" like The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman "could create a new direction and scene in the industry." Whether this film has created a new genre, or secured a permanent place for genre-mashup films is yet to be determined, but Wuershan has no doubt made his creative mark and established his own visual identity. Throughout the filming process, Yu and the other producers trusted Wuershan's aesthetic sense and watched him draw from his short film and television commercial directing experience. Wuershan displayed clear and precise goals from the very beginning planning phases, and his goals were unhindered by weather setbacks and set designs hiccups on location during filming.

He proved himself to be a capable commander during this project. As Yu notes, "Wuershan yearns for perfection."

FIP's President Sanford Panitch and Executive Producer, Hollywood director/producer, DougLiman, are especially thrilled to work with Wuershan and be part of this creatively-inspired project.

"The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman is so wildly imaginative it changed my perception of China as a whole" comments Liman. Panitch feels mainland Chinese films are now looking for a new genre, and new path, and this film "represents a new level of stylistic filmmaking for Mainland Chinese cinema." He believes that Wuershan is "a first in the new breed of Chinese directors that did not originally come from Hong Kong or restricted by cultural censorship" and hopes that Wuershan will inspire a new wave of imaginative filmmakers.

Endless Creative Possibilities
"A good film should be all-rounded, with a good mix and match." - Wuershan

How should a genre defying film look and feel? The answer: everything and nothing all at once. To create an out-of-reality environment that escapes specific reference to era and place, the filmmakers chose Yi County in China's Hebei Province for the main location. Yi County presented the perfect locale for the variety and flexibility that the production would require. Once the location was set, it was time to assemble a team.

A highly sought-after television commercial director in China, Wuershan made his early career from his mastery of aesthetics. To help create his vision for this project, the director called on his long time television commercial collaborator, Hao Yi, to assume the Art Director role. Hao Yi was responsible for the characters' costume designs and makeup. Together, the two designed the visual themes for this feature. As the pair describes, their thematic goals were both to reflect "some far and deserted place" that is also "rough and magical."

"Hao Yi is the best concept-to-execution Art Director in his peer group. And he has a risktaking, 'I'm game' attitude" comments a crewmember. It requires large devotion to be the art director of a genre movie. The biggest concern on any production is how to get the most out of a limited budget. As Hao Yi figured out, it is to emphasise the overall atmosphere and color tone on the set, and focus on the individuals' image.

Through careful costume design, the principal cast's images are sharp and unique. Hao Yi made sure that his team of costumes designers, headed by Liu Qian, incorporated essential martial arts elements into the costumes. Former fashion model Ashton Xu, who plays Dugu Cheng took notice, "the costumes are really chic. They are designed-rags, unlike the bright and sparkly period costumes that often appear in Chinese films, there is a sort of authenticity."

Next, Polish Director of Photography, Michal Tywoniuk, came aboard. Though Michal is an experienced cinematographer, the Chinese-speaking director and crew found themselves faced with language barrier challenges when collaborating with Michal. To avoid lost-in-translations, the team made extra preparations to map out detailed shooting scripts and storyboards for each scene before filming. Michal directed focus on the each actor's performance, using simple lighting to capture the characters' personalities, and employing ultra-wide angle lenses for close-ups on expressions and movements, while remaining close to his stylistic vision.

What makes The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman stand out is the director's use of an eclectic variety of visual and audio methods. Vignettes aplenty, the director devoted an immense amount of energy and time to collect and incorporate a wide array of video mediums, from karaoke, video games, animation, to vintage Kung Fu flashbacks, and television news reenactments to explain the minor story details. As Wuershan explains, the mix of mediums is "totally iconoclastic, it doesn't go against the film's symbolisms, instead it's original and creative." These elements made the film unmistakably contemporary.

The last key design players were Gong Ge'er, who previously composed music for the Beijing Olympic stadium during the 2008 games, electronic music producer, Dead J, and composer, Miquia. The three collaborated on the score. This music team came from very different musical training backgrounds, so the resulting score is a hip-hop remix that incorporates opera, symphony, folk, theatre, pop, rock, jazz, and heavy metal. The score has a grassroots and open feel, and hits the right note for the film's central vision: endless creative possibilities.

The Cast Comes Together
"It feels like as if I've hit the jackpot to have so many of my favorite actors taking part."- Wuershan

With such varied roles to cast, the filmmakers saw a wide range of portrayals from the exaggerated and histrionic, to the comical and manga-like. In casting each role, the director and the art director wanted to project and magnify each character's personality. They focused on juxtaposing extremes. What they ended up with was a varied cast in appearance and in training. The principal cast includes theatre performers, a male fashion model, a fresh young local actress, an established television icon, and an international actor - all being the filmmakers' first casting choices.

You Benchang is a renowned Chinese television actor and a personal idol of director, Wuershan. Wuershan had You in mind when conceiving the character of blacksmith Fat Tang. He paid You a visit and presented the film by explaining the Buddhist story concepts, hoping to spark interest from You, who had previously spent time training as a Buddhist monk. You, who is in his 70s, possesses a youthfulness at heart that Wuershan wanted to capture for the Fat Tang role. The director notes, "he has the ability to command the camera, I just want to keep shooting when he's in action."

Model/actor Ashton Xu who plays the Swordsman, shares the most screen time with You Benchang. Since Xu had worked with the director before, he was a natural choice for Wuershan. Because of the mutual trust that actor and director already shared, working together was a very open process. Xu also had a great experience on set working with You Benchang. As he describes, "working with a great actor could only raise my performance, I feel I've improved quickly."

Madam Mei, Top Courtesan of House of a Thousand Flowers, is played by Kitty Zhang. A femme fatale, highly skilled in arts, she is a perfect blend of mysterious, reserved and brave. Kitty Zhang embodies all of these elements, making her the ideal actress for the role. It was an unexpected surprise for the filmmakers when she signed on for the role very soon after reading the script. Though her scenes filmed later into production, she began a rigorous dancing and flute lesson training schedule prior to production in preparation for her role. Her most difficult filming scene involved dancing barefooted down a staircase and onto a tabletop in subzero temperatures. Both director and actress recall the cold weather during the shoot, though it is not evident on film. Zhang held her composure and fought through the difficult conditions. She comments, "the set was full of really strong and determined performers, all whom I can learn from."

Liu Xiaoye and Swanson Han, who play the butcher, Chopper, and his street performer pal,Chunge, are A-list Chinese theater actors. Liu Xiaoye and Swanson Han have appeared together in many stage plays throughout their careers, so the two were a natural pair. Both signed on to the project very early, during the planning stages. The director custom wrote for the butcher role for Liu Xiaoye, incorporating his comedic beats and idiosyncrasies. Han also connected with his character, noting that "Chunge is a street entertainer, I'm in entertainment biz, there're many similarities I can grasp."

The director was impressed by Masanobu Ando's performance in KIDS RETURN and FOREVER ENTRALLED, making him the first choice to play the Mute chef. Because the character is mute for most of the story, a mastery of body language was very important, something Ando had demonstrated in his prior works. The filmmakers thought so highly of Ando that producer Daniel Yu sent a Japanese friend directly to Ando to initiate his involvement with the film. Ando joined the project for opportunity to play a unique role, "I don't want to be a star, I want to be an actor." When he joined the project, he took on Chinese language and cooking training several weeks before production. He worked for several weeks, cooking and learning from the master chefs of China's popular South Beauty Restaurant Group.

Ning Hao, one of China's newest acclaimed directors, attended the Beijing Film Academy withWuershan. The two have been open about their mutual respect and recognition of one another's work over the years. To thank Ning Hao, Wuershan added a small role for him during the cock-fight scene.

The experience was fulfilling for both directors though Ning admits that he could not help his urge to watch the playback monitor from the director's seat on several occasions.

Meet the Characters
Madam Mei: This ravishing beauty and seductive flute player is the top courtesan of The House of a Thousand Flowers. The daughter of an impoverished scholar, she studied poetry and literature from a young age despite her life of hardship. Following her father's death, she sold herself to the brothel to pay for his burial. Her commanding beauty and composed exterior lend evidence to her proud and calculating interior.

Chopper: A butcher characterised by his simple mind and reckless personality, Chopper is consumed by a quixotic pursuit for Madame Mei's affections. Whether he is facing adversity, humiliation, or good fortune, his actions are erratic and impulsive though his intentions are harmless. His greatest downfall is his own ignorance.

Chunge: Chopper's childhood friend, Chunge is an idle vagrant who drinks too much. A bit of an oddball, he remains Chopper's loyal companion and most suitable sidekick.

The Mute: This handsome, talented, and cunning loner is a kitchen hand who is selected to succeed the renowned Big Eight Chef of South Beauty Restaurant. As a child, he witnessed the murder of his father, who had also been a great chef. He vowed to avenge his father. Filled with profound grief and anger, he is devoted to this singular goal.

Fat Tang: This once famed blacksmith was renowned for his skills in weapons forging. Burdened by the bloodshed that his weapons had caused, he renounced his former trade and escaped into hiding. He now occupies his time with his only pastime - cockfight gambling.

Dugu Cheng: He is younger son of legendary swordsman, The Great Dugu. Also a practiced swordsman, he desires to achieve greater fame and power than his father. He robs his father's grave to steal a mystical black iron from which he desires to forge a sword. He is characterised by his greed and ambition.

 

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