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Purple Butterfly
Purple Butterfly
Actors: Ziyi Zhang, Tru Nakamura, Ye Liu, Yuanzheng Feng, Bingbing Li
Director: Ye Lou
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
R     2005     2hr 7min

Cynthia is a young Chinese woman in love with Itami, a Japanese man about to be sent home for military service. A devastated Cynthia moves back to Shanghai only to witness the death of her elder brother during an attack b...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Ziyi Zhang, Tru Nakamura, Ye Liu, Yuanzheng Feng, Bingbing Li
Director: Ye Lou
Creators: Yu Wang, Ye Lou, Xiaohong Che, Alain de la Mata, An Nai, Jean-Louis Piel, Vincent Maraval, Wang Wei, Wu Zhuo, Yongde Zhu, Zheng Zhong
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Studio: Palm Pictures / Umvd
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/15/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 7min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: Japanese, Vietnamese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Beautiful on the outside, empty on the inside
Christopher Nieman | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/16/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Francis Ford Coppola once said that if he'd had a budget of one dollar for his film BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, he wanted to spend 95 cents on set design and costumes, with the remaining nickel spent on the screenplay.

Lou Ye's PURPLE BUTTERFLY follows that approach, although I would argue which film spent more conservatively on its writing.

The premise begins in Shanghai in 1928, a few years before the Japanese invasion. Zhang Ziyi plays Cynthia, whose Japanese boyfriend is called back to Tokyo. Coincidentally, Cynthia's brother is murdered immediately afterward for his anti-Japanese activism. She then joins a militant movement named Purple Butterfly, presumably motivated by her brother's death. Three years later, when her former boyfriend is found back in Shanghai, she is given the task of targeting him.

The film is often beautifully shot, with a lot of handheld camera movement suggesting a cinema verite style. Period design is outstandingly rendered, with lots of detail deep into the shots. The street scenes, interiors, and costumes provide a Chinese version of a film noir.

This is a real slow-burner of a movie, surprisingly devoid of substantial plot development. The film bogs down in lots of wordless interplay, suggestion, and furtive glances. The actors must carry numerous, protracted scenes in this manner, often in oddly framed, off-focus shots and extreme closeups. Scenes seem to go on and on without ever meaning very much. Even with a repertoire of expressions as varied as Zhang Ziyi possesses, the brooding never seems to end.

What perplexed me the most about this film was that its climax occurs only a quarter of the way through, turning the entire rest of the movie into a confusing muddle of flashbacks and foreshadowing. The film then ends, incongruously, with an epilogue of stock documentary footage of the Japanese invasion in 1937-38. It is some very strange cinematic decision making, adding up to one of the most disjointed movies I've ever seen.

Lou Ye is undoubtedly a skilled director, and he has a fine group to work with. But I would suggest that for his future films, he should leave the screenwriting and storyboarding to others, so he can better showcase his talent."
Shanghai in the 1930s: Love & Fate Collide
Erika Borsos | Gulf Coast of FL, USA | 04/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film is deeply intense. There is often silence that is thick with meaning. The camera often tells much of the story, honing in on the actors and actresses faces ... the spartan rooms ... the city scapes/ scenes ... the commotion of workers going to and from work ... the riots, protests and rebellions ... the crowds of people at the railroad station in Shanghai. The film begins in Manchuria, the year is 1928 when Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi) a Chinese young lady has a love affair with Itami (Toru Nakamura) a Japanese young man whose father is part of a Japanese delegation who are seeking political opportunity to destabilize the region. Times are tense, the atmosphere is ripe for political change and explosive events. Itami is called back to Japan to serve in the military and their brief but very passionate love affair is cut short.

The film is impressionistic and surreal in how it portrays events and relationships. There are clandestine organizations at work, and it is not often clear who is involved in what until some complicated twist and turn in the plot occurs to reveal the truth. Early in the film, Cynthia's brother is ambushed by a Japanese underground group. He is murdered before her eyes. This causes her to join the "Purple Butterfly" a clandestine Chinese resistance group who try to bring about justice for China and eliminate the Japanese threat.

Zhang Ziyi does an outstanding performance in this serious role. After witnessing her brother's murder, she takes on a false identity, Hui Deng, a nurse who works at Marion Hospital. Hers is a stellar performance along with Itami played by Toru Nakamura. Hui Deng participates in an assassination at the railroad station. There Szeto loses his lady love, accidentally killed in the crossfire. He is also given a briefcase by mistake which puts him in the middle of some very serious problems. Szeto becomes heavily embroiled in the activities against the Japanese but he falls into a trap which puts his life at risk. He is in a very precarious position. He makes a deal, it saves his life but ulitimately because of the direction he went ... he ends up losing it.

Itami returns to Shanghai to take over as the leader of the Japanese movement. He is replacing Mr. Yoshikawa who is being recalled to Japan. Itami is managing the upheaval and creating more dissension and rioting, through his spy network and underground operations. The Japanese want to control Shanghai. Cynthia again enters Itami's life and becomes personally involved renewing their love affair but with ulterior motives. However, Itami is not who he used to be and neither is Cynthia the same person she was. Unknown to Itami, she is now an assassin and revolutionary. Itami asks Cynthia to return to Tokyo with him, he even arranges for legal authorization with his boss. Itami and Cynthia attend a party at the Japanese Club, where they dance to a very haunting and beautiful Chinese tune, called "A Garden Bridge". The events which transpire at the party are jaw-dropping. The twists and turns of the plot are unpredictable and very satisfying. The ending will astonish the viewer ... At the very end of the film, there is actual black and white film footage of the Japanese invasion of Nanking around 1937 which brings *full* closure on the film. This is a most astonishing complex story with exceptionally artistic cinematography and great acting. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
A tragic, period romance
Cubist | United States | 07/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Purple Butterfly is Lou Ye's follow-up to his dreamy Suzhou River, a Wong Kar-Wai-esque tragic love affair. This movie is also a tale of doomed romance set in 1930s Shanghai. In some respects, this is Ye's In the Mood for Love as Purple Butterfly is also a richly textured period piece about a love affair between two people that can never be together because of the dictates of their society. It's a classic story of a couple who should be together but meet in the wrong place and time in history.

Zhang Ziyi has such a wonderful, expressive face that Ye uses so well in the movie. For example, in one scene he captures the child-like glee on her face as she spots a cute knick-knack in a store window. In another scene, he shows the soul-crushing anguish on her face as she watches her brother and his friends blown apart on the street by a terrorist.

Lou Ye's film shows how revenge is a powerful motivator that transcends politics. It is the reason why Cynthia and Szeto do what they do in the movie. Tragedy has touched them so deeply and so profoundly that revenge is the only option that they have for some kind of closure. In their eyes, those responsible must also suffer. And yet, the Purple Butterfly's conclusion suggests that world events and politics ultimately eclipses what happens to these characters and what they do. They are at the mercy of fate and the machinations of history."
Noir in Shanghai: Beautiful Period Romance, Confusing Storyt
Tsuyoshi | Kyoto, Japan | 01/30/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"To enjoy the Chinese-French film `Purple Butterfly,' some patience is required. To follow the story was hard for me (and I am a Japanese who knows the historical background of the film), but once you understand what is going on, you see the merits of this period romance. First, remember the following four characters.

Zhang Ziyi is Ding Hui/Cynthia, a Chinese girl whose brother is a member of one underground organization protesting against the Japanese invasion. The time is set in 1928, and the place is northern China, then called Manchuria. But one tragic thing happens to her brother, and she is also drawn into the activity of the organization.

Toru Nakamura, Japanese actor, plays Itami a Japanese whose father works as an interpreter in China. But young Itami must leave this country and his love Cynthia because he was drafted into the military service by the Japanese army. Three years later, Itami comes back to Shanghai as Japanese military officer, who had been trained for espionage in China. Now Itami meets Cynthia again in this city, but this time Cynthia's love seems to have a hidden agenda for she is meetig her new lover Xie Ming (Yuanzheng Feng).

In addition to the main story above, there is a sub-plot. Lie Ye (`Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress') plays Situ, a young, ordinary Chinese man. He and Yiling (Bingbing Li) are innocent sweethearts, but when Situ is mistaken for someone else at the crowded station, a tragic thing happens.

[Noir in China] The fates of the characters are closely intertwined with the film's complicated plot. This film can be called a romance, but it would be more correct to call it a noir film. The images themselves are beautiful, and the production designs are realistic, but the murky photography and the shaky camera may not be your taste. Though there are shooting scenes, and you can see Zhang Ziyi shooting a gun - far cry from the image we associate with her (oh, and let's forget `Rush Hour 2,' shall we?) - the sequences are sometimes confusing, and probably that is one of the reasons for the general complaint about the film.

Whatever your reaction may be, the film proves that Zhang Ziyi is an immensely gifted actress, but I am not sure if her acting here is her best. But to me, though the time allotted to her character was not long enough, Bingbing Li as young telephone operator is more impressive. There is one brief but memorable scene, in which Bingbing Li quietly sits in a streetcar as if unaware of the riotous street outside. The contrast between the two worlds is represented in this short sequence, and in the middle of the battles and the deaths there is a woman who is clearly in love. Bingning Li literally becomes the image of love, which is too fragile in the time of war.

Writer/Director Lou Ye succeeds in creating such remarkable sequences resonant with the film's serious themes, but the jumbling of the time order and the confusing relations between the characters often do harm to them. `Purple Butterfly' is for the viewers who can be patient with the slow-moving and complicated story. It will be rewarding experience only after you put the pieces in the right places.