Purple Butterfly

Purple Butterfly


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Schizophrenia is a common problem throughout Purple Butterfly. The film clearly has so many influences, from the sumptuous mood pieces of Wong Kar-Wai, the orchestrated gore of Sam Peckinpah, a touch of North By Northwest and messed up chronology for good measure. Nothing wrong with a wee bit of plagiarism, you understand, but to mould the styles and make them your own is the key to success. Does Purple Butterfly work as a mixture of tones and styles? Not exactly.

The film is set during the period of Japan's occupation of Shanghai. Zhang Ziyi stars as Ding Hui, a young Chinese woman who is part of the underground resistance, known as Purple Butterfly. Her lover and brother are killed in a surprise suicide attack and she ends up with passionate secret feelings for a Japanese agent, called Itami Hidehiko. During this plot contrivance, a George Kaplan-style mistaken identity crisis forces an ordinary man onto an assassination mission to kill Itami.

Copy picture

Ye Lou's visual style is that of a photographer's romantic vision, yet without flair, cementing the idea that the film is not really a romance, even if it is beautiful to look at, with dark exteriors and golden warm interiors. The period detail is impressive and highly extravagent.

Control over the storytelling is slipshod, however. During much of the film, it feels that the projectionist has spliced the reels incorrectly, going back and forward through time, without much of a clue. Perhaps the way the story draws to a close supplies a belief in the inevitability of the characters' fate, but there have to be tighter, more satisfying ways of achieving this.

Essentially, the plot is stale and the film's cloying sentimentality trips up the narrative.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2004
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Secret loves and violent action of resistance fighters in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation.

Director: Ye Lou

Writer: Ye Lou

Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Ye Lou, Yanzheng Feng, Toru Nakamura, Li Bingbing

Year: 2003

Runtime: 127 minutes

Country: China/France


EIFF 2004

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