Martial Arts / Action
Distributed By: Tai Seng
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I have long been a fan of Michelle Yeohís work ever since watching her in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Since then Iíve seen her in numerous films including Supercop 2, Twin Warriors and The Heroic Trio. So, when I saw Butterfly Sword starring Michelle Yeoh in the local video store, I just had to rent it.
Made in 1993, Butterfly Sword (aka: Butterfly and Sword) is a martial arts action film based on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword, a 1973 novel by Gu Long. Michelle Yeoh stars as Sister Ko, member of the Happy Forest martial arts clan. The clan has recently been given a mission by Eunich Tsao (Guozhu Zhang) to retrieve an important document sent to Master Seun (Elvis Tsui), leader of Elite Villa, a rival martial arts clan. Should the document fall into the wrong hands, it could do much to discredit Tsao with the Emperor. Sister Ko enlists the aide of childhood friends and co-clan members Yip Cheung (Donnie Yen) and Meng Sing Wan (Tony Leung) to battle the rival clan and secure the document for their clan leader.
Faking the death of Meng Sing Wan, the Happy Forest clan sends their one of their best fighters undercover into the Elite Villa camp, charging him with getting close enough to Master Seun that he will entrust Meng Sing Wan with the location of the secret document. As the Happy Forest clan comes closer to achieving their goal, it becomes clear that not all is as it seems and perhaps their mission is more like a trap set by a man with a hidden agenda - one that threatens to destroy both martial arts clans.
An underlying plot of this film is the love triangle that exists between Sister Ko, Yip Cheung and Meng Sing Wan. We soon learn that Yip Cheung has harbored a secret yearning for Sister Ko since childhood but has been too shy to reveal his love for her. At the same time, Sister Ko harbors a secret affection for Meng Sing Wan, but he is in love with someone else, Butterfly (Joey Wang), a woman for whom he is willing to give up martial arts forever.
As I watched Butterfly Sword, I found myself smiling. Here was a film that echoed the classic style of the Shaw Brothers films I watched on Black Belt Theater but contained more plot-wise. It also offers more in the acting department. The films I watched as a kid offered little in dramatic acting and some of them were rather comical in the way they tried to present drama on screen. But Michelle Yeoh is an incredible dramatic film actress, making us believe that Sister Ko is not just a character in a movie, but an actual person suffering in her role as a member of an elite martial arts clan while pushing aside her love for another. But great acting and martial arts skill isnít all that Michelle Yeoh offers up in this film. If you pay careful attention to the main title song of this film, you will discover that the song is actually performed by Michelle Yeoh, adding singing to her many talents. Tony Leung is excellent in his role as Meng Sing Wan, a man hopelessly in love who must fight one more epic battle before he can walk away from his brotherhood. We donít get to see much of Donnie Yen in the drama department, but what we do see reveals the pain his character is going through in his secret love for Sister Ko.
Now, letís discuss the action of Butterfly Sword. The film starts out fairly calm as the credits scroll, but the action picks up immediately as we are treated to the removal of a manís face through master swordsmanship that seemingly comes out of the blue. The rest of the action sequences which feature fights using various forms of weaponry, including swords, chains, bows and arrows and even a childís ball, are extremely well-choreographed. Of course, some of these fight scenes are a bit far-fetched with our heroes literally fighting their way through the enemy (yes, right through them). I donít know about you, but if a man passed through me via sword or fist, I think I would probably explode outward in thousands of tiny pieces. I certainly wouldnít attempt to launch another attack.
Costume design was created with an eye toward assisting the choreographed scenes, making them that much more powerful visually. My favorite scenes feature extreme contrasts of color such as the reds and whites of the courtyard game of ball at the Eunichís home and the fight scene at Elite Villa featuring the black and white clad assassin. The color schemes do much to bring out the intricate details of the choreography in each scene, enhancing their beauty.
The love story is appealing in a tragic sort of way. We see unrequited love through the eyes of both male and female characters and the jealousy that such love can elicit. It is unfortunate that the main characters in this film can not see the love that lies wait for them if they would just open their eyes to the fact.
I also liked the plot twist that turns the Happy Forest clan on its ear as they realize theyíve been had. Nice way to round out the film and, of course, a great lead-in to a dramatic ending fight scene. The ending left a little to be desired, but happily, an extra feature on this DVD allowed me to see an alternate ending. In my opinion, this shouldnít be an alternate, but in fact the actual ending as it makes much more sense and offers us closure as to the main charactersí fates.
All-in-all, fans of the martial arts genre will find this film quite enjoyable for the most part. There are some annoying scenes with people seemingly endlessly flying through the trees, but if you ignore the line artistry in that, you will find yourself watching a very well-written, well-choreographed movie with a decent main plot, a juicy underlying sub-plot and plenty of fight scenes. I must warn you, the action sequences found in Butterfly Sword can be fairly bloody, but if you arenít faint of heart, you will love each and every one of them. Butterfly Sword was definitely an enjoyable martial arts action film that left me with absolutely no movie rental regrets.