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M Butterfly [VHS]

25 customer reviews

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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: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Number of tapes: 1
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • VHS Release Date: November 10, 1997
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6303031897
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,554 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

Jeremy Irons gives another superb and underrated performance in M Butterfly, an elegant adaptation of the Broadway hit by playwright David Henry Hwang. Irons plays a French diplomat in China in 1964 who falls in love with a star of the Beijing Opera, not realizing that the entrancing performer holds secrets that will ruin his life--that the singer is a spy for the Communist government is only the beginning of the diplomat's troubles. Though M Butterfly may seem like a departure for director David Cronenberg (best known for horror and science fiction flicks like The Fly and Scanners), the themes of desire and self-deception fit comfortably into his oeuvre, alongside his adaptations of difficult novels like Naked Lunch and Crash. M Butterfly, like the more popular movie The Crying Game, is a cunning examination of love and denial. Also featuring John Lone (The Last Emperor). --Bret Fetzer

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Sondra Rosenberg on December 2, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
A bit of a departure for horror/sci-fi director David Cronenberg, but nonetheless one of his best films. Jeremy Irons plays Rene Gallimard, an accountant for the French Embassy in Beijing, who becomes infatuated with a Chinese diva (Song Liling), played by John Lone. After a passionate and scandalous affair, Song leaves Beijing, supposedly pregnant with Gallimard's child. Years later when he is arrested for espionage, Gallimard is forced to confront the fact that not only was his lover a spy for the Chinese ministry, but a man. Some people find John Lone's inability to completely pass as a woman problematic, but as Cronenberg explains: "I didn't want an unknown who was incredibly female and almost undetectable. I wanted a man. When Gallimard and Song are kissing I wanted it to be two men. I wanted the audience to feel that... M. Butterfly for me is about transformation.." For me, it's a brilliant exploration of the nature of curiousity and desire that necessarily ends tragically. The devastating notion that you can give up your entire life for something that is not true, that it's possible to fall in love with an idea, an image, a masquerade. Cronenberg abounds in his insights to imperialism, gender performance and the human capcity for transformation. Still, above all is the emotional intensity of this film, his best (in that regard) to date. Beautiful cinematography and exquisite acting, earns five stars for the closing scene alone. Highly recommended.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 6, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
I don't think anyone could have done justice to writing the screenplay to M Butterfly (based on David Henry Hwang's stage play) than Hwang himself. While it is a bit of a departure from the 1988 play based on the true story of a French diplomat who falls in love with a Chinese opera singer and the disastrous outcome of their affair, as a film it could not have been done otherwise.
Jeremy Irons, a wonderful actor no matter what role he plays, makes for an astounding Rene Gallimard. Less sarcastic than John Lithgow, who created the role on Broadway, Irons gives new depth and intensity to the frustrated, naive accountant. The dramatic depth to John Lone's Song Liling is equal to Irons and equal in departure from BD Wong's somewhat giggly Broadway portrayal of the Chinese diva.
A great deal of "s" words can be used to describe David Cronenberg's film, the top of that list including subtle and sexy. The tone is set, mostly, by the score--which includes traditional-sounding Chinese music and variations of Puccini's Madame Butterfly (especially the recurring theme of "Un Bel Di")--and the scenery (shot in the Far East and Budapest). The ubiquitous soft red and gold tones add to the seductive, nearly erotic edge of the film, all of which culminate at the end.
I don't want to give any of it away, mainly because when I saw the movie I had already read and seen the play, and there is so much more meaning to realize the end with Rene, but I will say that it is moving to the point of tears. Not necessarily because of the outcome, but more in how the actors play it and how the director has realized it. If you have ANY interest in purchasing this film (especially if you have any experience with Hwang's stage play), by all means buy it. It won't disappoint.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 17, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
This 1993 film is based on the true story of French diplomat, Rene Gallimard, who carried on an affair for 18 years with Chinese opera singer Song Liling. Later, he was arrested when it was discovered he was passing diplomatic secrets to the Chinese government through his lover. However, there is a twist. Song Liling was actually a man, not a woman, and supposedly kept this fact from Gallimard through all this time.
Jeremy Irons is cast as Rene Gallimard. John Lone, who was actually trained in the Beijing opera and who played the title role in The Last Emperor, is cast as Song Liling. He is not a convincing female but I feel this was the director's intent. The story is, after all, about Gallimard's blind obsession in his desire for the perfect woman. Both Irons' and Lone's performances are magnificent. Both are tragic and sympathetic characters caught up in history.
The theme is also about the role of men and women as well as Communist China and the cultural revolution. Great cinematography and setting brings us to the heart of China which is going through its growing pains. Deception and betrayal are everywhere, not just between the two leading characters involved in the romance.
I was unprepared to like the video as much as I did. It did not do well at the box office, I knew the theme in advance and felt it would strain my belief system. However, I was swept away in the story and the excellent performances and had no trouble overlooking its flaws. Of course the author took dramatic license and created a ending that played like an opera, but who is to blame him; the story itself just cried out for theatrics.
Recommended as an interesting departure from the ordinary.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kathy Fennessy on February 9, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
M. Butterfly was one of David Cronenberg's more poorly received films, but I think it's actually pretty underrated. It bears mentioning, however, that I felt the same way about his take on William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, which also received mixed reviews, but can't have been an easy work to adapt. M. Butterfly is an adaptation of David Henry Hwang's Tony Award winning play and is based on a true story (Naked Lunch, despite its radical form, was also largely based on events from Burroughs' life -- both real and imagined).
I think the timing of M. Butterfly's release was partly to blame for its lukewarm reception as it touches on some of the same gender, sexual orientation and cultural issues as Farewell My Concubine, which was released around the same time. Chen Kaige's more controversial, but widely praised Chinese epic went on to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. M. Butterfly does pale a bit in comparison. Leslie Cheung is more dynamic than The Last Emperor's John Lone in a similar part (as a man specializing in female operatic roles) -- but it's still a worthwhile effort and a change of pace for Mr. Cronenberg from his usual high-tech sci-fi/horror scenarios. And Jeremy Irons can almost always be counted on to give a quality performance (Dungeons and Dragons aside...). Rene Gallimard may represent a less challenging role than that of Dead Ringers' twin gynecologists, but Irons makes this lovesick French diplomat sympathetic and believable even as lets his love for Lilong Song (Lone) blind him to the seemingly obvious truth of the matter -- that the woman he's fallen in love with is really not a woman at all.
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