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Featured DVD: Butterfly Swords

July 20th, 2012

Butterfly Swords - Buy from Amazon

Butterfly Swords was released in its native Hong Kong in 1993 and has an impressive cast, including Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, and others. Butterfly Swords sounds like the least intimidating name ever, but it is the name of a type of weapon used in China, so it's like calling the movie Switchblade and I'm sure there are dozens of movies with that name. Hopefully no one will dismiss a movie just on the name, but will those who give it a chance be glad they did?

The Movie

The film begins with a narrator telling us that the city of Jianghu has been plagued by war for centuries, but it is not only a time of war, but a time of love. And love can drive some men insane, including those in the house Eunuch Li. ... Yeah, if you were part of the house of Eunuch and were in love, I can see how that would drive you insane.

Then a guy gets his face cut off. It's that abrupt. We are about 2 minutes into the movie and already I don't know what's going on.

We are next introduced to Sing Wan, one of a band of assassins called the Happy Forest. Least intimidating name ever. He's a master with a sword and bow and literally uses them to take soldiers apart before kidnapping their leader. That night while he is holding the military leader hostage, Lady Ko, another member of the gang, arrives and insults his member. She then insults his wife's cooking, and then his wife. She calls herself honest; I'm sure other people have a different name for that. Sing is married to a woman named Butterfly (Joey Wang), which is why this title in the credits is Butterfly and Sword. Butterfly's father was a great swordsman, which means he killed many, many people. On his deathbed, he told Butterfly to never get involved with a man like him, so Sing has to keep his martial arts expertise a secret. Also helping him his secret is Yip Cheung, his best friend, who happens to be in love with Lady Ko.

The three of them are helping Eunuch Tsao (Eunuch Tsao), who is dying, prevent Li Shu Tin and Suen Yuk Pa from rebelling against the government. They must find out what their plans are and warn the emperor, and of course kill the rebels. Their first attack, led by Yip, fails, so Sing must go undercover to attack from within.

That's enough of the plot. In fact, it's way more detail that you need. This is a movie that thrives on its martial arts action and whenever the film strays from that, it suffers. The plot is confusing and the characters are never developed enough to care. However, the movie does have plenty of action in the Wire fu / Wuxia genre. The action is frequently over-the-top. There are decapitations by the dozen in this movie and early in the film, Lady Ko decapitates the hostage with her sleave. You don't see that very often. Sing uses his bow to launch his sword at his enemies, and later uses it to launch himself, while he is in the air. If you are a fan of Wuxia martial arts, you will accept this, 'martial arts as magic' premise, if not, this could be a facepalm moment.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD and the video and audio presentation is really poor. When the film first started, I thought I might have read the date wrong and it was made in 1983 and not 1993. There's a lot of print damage and it is in non-anamorphic widescreen. The audio is muffled, but still much better than the video. Really, you only need to hear the swords clanging against each other, because the dialogue is unnecessary. And is only available in the original Cantonese with English subtitles.

The Verdict

Butterfly Swords is good for the genre, but not great. There's plenty of action, wild over-the-top action, but the plot is confusing and redundant. There are no extras on the DVD, while the video and audio quality is close to VHS levels. If you are a fan of the genre, it is worth checking out, but stick with a rental.

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