Purple Butterfly (China/France; 127 min.)


directed by: Ye Lou
starring: Ziyi Zhang; Ye Liu; Yuanzheng Feng; Tôru Nakamura
Zi Hudie
 
Bruce says: "Costume dramas are not my favourite genre especially ones such as PURPLE BUTTERFLY that have the look and feel of a Banana Republic ad. That may sound a bit harsh, but I have serious reservations as to whether the average person on the Manchurian streets in 1928 or downtown Shanghai in 1931 were as stylish and impeccably dressed as the stars and supporting characters in this film. You could say I’m missing the point that PURPLE BUTTERFLY is paying homage to Hollywood films of that time and that is part of the pleasure. Were that my only complaint about PURPLE BUTTERFLY, I might concede the point.

"The film begins in Manchuria 1928 as the Japanese are poised to invade. Local loyalists, members of the resistance movement, Purple Butterfly - freedom fighters (they didn’t use the term insurgents in those days) - are mowed down on the streets as they strive to campaign against what is about to happen. Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi) is a Manchurian beauty who has seen her brother and his friends assassinated. At the time she was having a love affair with Itami a young Japanese man who is being recalled to Japan. At the same time Cynthia’s cousin Xie Ming loses his love in a shootout.

"Later in Shanghai after Japan has invaded China in 1931 revenge is taken and the score is evened. How that happens is central to the story. Szeto (Liu Ye) happens to be in the same train compartment as Itami returns to China, this time to Shanghai. There is a mix-up of bags which starts the plot moving; as a result, Szeto is wrongly marked as a Japanese sympathizer. Both the Japanese and the Purple Butterfly use Szeto to further their own purposes. Cynthia and Itami rekindle their romance but each suspects the other of scheming and double crossing. The plot is difficult to follow. At one point I was about to cheer, not for what was happening in the film but for being able to briefly follow what was going on.

"PURPLE BUTTERFLY is very nicely filmed. The lead actors all are very good looking, even glamorous, which ties in well with the 1930's Hollywood theme. While this is somewhat of a film noir/spy/thriller, Lou Ye mixes in some romance, melodrama and a history lesson as well. Mixing genres is tricky business which some directors manage better than others. Here, Lou Ye might have fared better with a more simplified storyline.

"I’m having difficulty getting on the Zhang Ziyi (HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) bandwagon; while I think she is competent, I also find her a bit ordinary. She lacks the style, talent and beauty of Gong Li and Maggie Cheung, both international stars of the highest order. Yet she is being marketed as though she were their equal. 2.5 cats"

 
Diane says: "Here's a good one! Set in 1930s Shanghai with the Japanese invading,
PURPLE BUTTERFLY is about spies and resisters, love, betrayal and bullets in pouring rain. (I keep wanting to call it PURPLE RAIN.) Reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel When we were orphans in its setting and confusion, it explores that intersection of public and private life in a time of war. 'What are we fighting for?' asks a character, facing a sacrifice of personal happiness for her country's well-being. That conflict is shown beautifully in the last few seconds of the film.

"Director You Le expertly chooses what not to show. Liu Ye as Szeto channels Donnie Darko, with time merging and flowing back and forth. There is a sweet slow dance between Szeto and his girl Yiling that I've chosen for their memory for the afterlife (to a tune almost as catchy as GHOST WORLD's 'Jaan Pehechaan Ho.') Zhang Ziyi, in a role that begins as femme fatale and ends as tragic, will see a best atress nom. (Who was it that said they didn't like her--Michael? See if this changes your opinion.) I'd see this one again. 4 cats."

 
Michael says: "Director Ye Lou clearly enjoyed his early-American films. With his last film, SUZHOU RIVER, he created a terrific homage to Hitchcock, specifically VERTIGO, and with his latest release, PURPLE BUTTERFLY, he borrows heavily from the Film Noir of the ‘40’s. Set in the 1930’s, PURPLE BUTTERFLY is a convoluted, overstuffed story of life, war, love, and loss. The Purple Butterfly, a group of rebels in China. are struggling as the Japanese move closer to invasion. Zhang Ziyi’s Ding Hui is undercover for the rebels and involved in a relationship with Itami, himself a Japanese operative whose mission is to dismantle the rebels. Itami is recalled to Japan, and shortly thereafter, Ding and the rebels suffer a terrible tragedy as several of their members, including Ding’s brother, are killed.

"The film jumps to another couple who are falling in love. These innocents will become inexorably tangled into the violent world of the Purple Butterfly. As with many American Film Noir, there plot is packed with twists, turns, and other confusing tricks. In one sense, the plot doesn’t even matter. As in SUZHOU RIVER, Ye Lou uses his skilled eye to create a look for his film that persists through almost every scene. The rain-soaked streets, long trench coats and umbrellas echo the style of those early Hollywood films, and I do concede that Zhang Ziyi gives a pretty strong performance. Between this and her outstanding work in Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, Zhang is growing into an actor to watch.

"Ultimately, Ye Lou paints a tragic story set against the backdrop of war between China and Japan. The tragedy is underlined even more in the final minutes of the film and a startling, yet slowly revealed revelation. Those final minutes of the film actually lifted PURPLE BUTTERFLY from the 2 1/2 cats I was initially going to award it to a much stronger 3 ½ cats."