Saturday, July 7, 2012


Butterfly Swords is a nearly twenty year-old film finally making it to DVD.  With the all-star cast of martial arts superstars it boasts you would expect there to be more dazzling fight sequences, but this was originally released in 1993, years before films like The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero revolutionized the way people do battle on screen.  In Butterfly Swords there are a few good hand to hand fight scenes that showcase the talented martial artists, but there are mostly just whiplash inducing cuts that don't allow the viewer to take in the impact of each move, let alone admire the execution.  In its own hokey way though, the film still manages to be charming, albeit pretty violent (a lot more blood and severed heads than the aforementioned films).  I imagine this is the type of crudely edited film that would inspire a much better Tarantino film.  This is okay since the film doesn't take itself too seriously and the lighthearted way it bounces along with poorly spaced subtitles adds its appeal.  Admittedly it's an acquired taste, I don't think that the average person who might have enjoyed The House of Flying Daggers for instance would find the charm in Butterfly Swords, but fans of Tarantino and old Bruce Lee movies might get a kick out of it.

The plot surrounds two assassins Sister Ko (Michelle Yeoh) and Sing (Tony Leung) from the Happy Forest, who are trying to protect their kingdom from a neighboring group of rebels from Elites Villa...or something.  That part is not really clear, but mainly serves as a backdrop to the real story which is the subplot love quadrangle that includes the two assassins, another assassin Yip (Donnie Yen) and Sing's girlfriend Butterfly (Joey Wang).  Though the three assassins are like siblings, they are not blood relatives. There is a funny flashback sequence explaining how they met and how Sister Ko came to "raise" the younger boys.  As adults however, Sister Ko seems to have formed feelings for Sing and disdain for Butterfly with whom she has to compete for his attention.  They have a bitchy tea party that is one of the films comedic highlights.  Meanwhile, Yip is the one who harbors feelings for Sister Ko, but he's too bashful to act on them.  Unfortunately, the film favors the undercover assassins plot over the love story in terms of resolution, so it doesn't really go anywhere.  It's also interesting to see how far the culture has come in twenty years.  The women fight valiantly as equals to the men, but an unmarried pregnant woman fears being drowned by he townspeople. Yes, the movie is set in the past, but it's something to look at as much as the evolution of the martial arts choreography.

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