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M. Butterfly

33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Screen adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway play. A French civil service officer risks and then abandons everything in his life in his obsessive pursuit of an enigmatic Chinese opera diva who harbors a secret.


Playwright David Henry Hwang crafted his smash-hit stage play about love and illusion by mixing elements of a true story with echoes of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. When M. Butterfly came to the screen, certain aspects of its dramatic effect would have to be re-thought, a task given to David Cronenberg, still best known in 1993 as a director of brainy sci-fi and horror. Although the resulting film was widely considered a failure at the time, hindsight shows it to be a cool, controlled look at how various kinds of fictions infiltrate peoples' lives. The story takes off with a French diplomat, newly assigned to China in 1964, who falls hard for a performer in the Peking Opera; Cold War espionage enters the scene as well. Most viewers will not be surprised at the biggest twist in the tale, but that doesn't seem to have been Cronenberg's main interest in pursuing this story, and indeed the downplaying of the gimmicky possibilities actually increases the theme of a person (or a nation, given the political backdrop) willing himself to believe in things that are visibly not true. Hwang's script hits a little heavily on the critique of the Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing fantasy of the white man seducing the Asian woman, but the subtext of Sixties-era China and Vietnam certainly adds intrigue. Jeremy Irons is fine as the diplomat, a difficult and obtuse character, and John Lone is clipped and brittle in an equally complex role. A warm film it's not, and its themes are a little to skeletal to come to life. But better than its reputation? Absolutely. --Robert Horton

Special Features

  • New interview with director David Cronenberg
  • Theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon
  • Directors: David Cronenberg
  • Writers: David Henry Hwang
  • Producers: David Henry Hwang, Gabriella Martinelli, Philip Sandhaus
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 26, 2009
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001TK80CU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,992 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "M. Butterfly" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By James Morris on May 30, 2009
Format: DVD
Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly is the catalyst behind this fictional version of the bizarre true story of the relationship between Bernard Borsicot, a French diplomat, and Shi Pei-Pu, a Peking opera singer. In the film and play, Bernard Borsicot becomes Rene Gallimard, a low-level accountant at a French embassy, who is promoted to head of embassy intelligence after he inadvertently ruffles some feathers among the espionage staff. The real-life Shi Pei-Pu is known as Song Liling, a singer at the Beijing opera, although the actual events took place in Peking. With a background set among the chaos of China just prior to and during the Cultural revolution, the affair between Boriscot/Gallimard and Pei-Pu/Lilang is used to frame a well-crafted and extremely well-acted story of espionage, love, betrayal, obsession and, ultimately, a dramatic reversal of the tragedy of Madama Butterfly.

Unlike some, I believe that Borsicot/Gallimard probably did not know, or certainly did not want to know, that Shi/Song was really a man. I found John Lone as Song very convincing indeed, even though as a gay man I am very used to being around transgender people, many of whom are not even remotely as credible as Mr. Lone. What is less credible is how young Song looks when she is finally revealed as a man during the brief courtroom scene, since their affair was supposed to last over 30 years, and John Lone appears to be in his late twenties during the trial scene. But this is a minor quibble; the irony of the climactic ending may be lost on anyone who is unfamiliar with the opera that the story parallels, but this does not detract from the compelling nature of the film. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Ian Richardson as the Ambassador and Barbara Sukowa as Gallimard's wife.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amaranth on June 2, 2009
Format: DVD
"M. Butterfly" is David Cronenberg's powerful espionage drama,based on David Henry Hwang's stage drama. Jeremy Irons stars as Gallimard, a French civil servant in Beijing who finds himself smitten with the lovely opera diva Soong Liling (John Lone) Their pillow talk consists of American troop movements in Vietnam, Soong is a secret agent for the Red Guard. Along the way, Soong drops little hints to her true nature. Picnicking on the Great Wall, Soong asks, "Why do you love a woman with a boy's chest?" Soong also tells one of her comrades that men impersonated women in the Beijing Opera because "only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act."

The romance becomes political intrigue. In the end, Soong's identity is revealed and Gallimard commits hara-kiri. In real life,however, both lovers remained alive. The French agent didn't kill himself; in fact,he has gone to numerous stagings of the play and was on the set when Cronenberg's movie was being made.

"M. Butterfly" is a superb work. Irons and Lone are a convincing couple. Howard Shore's soundtrack is sensuous and beautiful. "M. Butterfly" is a fascinating take on East meets West.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rev. Donna M. Swindells VINE VOICE on July 13, 2010
Format: DVD
This version of "Madame Butterfly" is not the opera type. This is a heart-breaking love for a Man looking for his perfect Butterfly. It first seems like He (Jeremy Irons) has found his heart's desire. But the truth, (ugly as it is) slowly comes out. His life is in ruins, so is his soul.
The last half-hour is not to be missed, no phone calls or computer on. See this actor take you on a trip you will not forgot emotionally. And a ending that is unexpected and leave your soul wounded as well.
The "Best!"
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Format: Amazon Instant Video
M. BUTTERFLY continues to rank among the more important cinematic adaptations of a brilliant play - this one by the playwright David Henry Hwang. Having the pleasure to see two productions of the play - New York and Los Angeles - and viewing the film (1993) in the theater and on Amazon Instant Video brings an immense amount of satisfaction of just how fine this work is and continues to satisfy. The fact that David Henry Hwang wrote the screenplay suggests how true to the original the film is and how much of an impact it makes on the viewer

M. BUTTERFLY is based on a true story that stunned the world. During the Cultural Revolution in China in the mid-1960s, a French diplomat René Gallimard (a brilliant portrayal by Jeremy Irons) falls in love with a Chinese opera singer Song Liling (John Lone) - women were never allowed to sing in the Beijing Opera so the fact that Song is a man is credible. Song Liling touches him with a love as vivid, as seductive--and as elusive--as a butterfly. The love affair is so fragile and respectful that René does not suspect that Song is a man in disguise. René Is an important diplomat with the French Embassy, married to Jeanne (Barbara Sukowa), and is responsible for maintaining the high standards of diplomacy. Song Liling has been placed in the position of an undercover agent to gather secrets from the Embassy about the American plans in Vietnam. As René is promoted he demands to see his M. Butterfly without her clothes, an Song's only protection about her gender identity is to reveal that she is pregnant with René's child and must leave to be with her family until the child is born.
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