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Purple Butterfly

22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Cynthia is a young Chinese woman in love with Itami, a Japanese man about to be sent home for military service. A devastated Cynthia moves back to Shanghai only to witness the death of her elder brother during an attack by the Japanese extreme right. She changes her name and joins a secret resistance group code named Purple Butterfly the same group that years later will plot to assassinate Itami

Zhang Ziyi looks as beautiful as ever in Purple Butterfly, a film that takes her out of the martial-arts world of Hero and House of Flying Daggers. She plays a member of Purple Butterfly, an underground resistance group fighting against the Japanese aggression in early-1930s China. The movie's central dilemma comes when her ex-lover, a Japanese agent (Toru Nakamura), returns to Shanghai and is earmarked for assassination by Purple Butterfly. This compelling-sounding set-up is frustratingly unfulfilled, as director Ye Lou (Shuzou River) opts for an opaque brand of storytelling, in which chronology is jumbled and drama short-circuited. The film looks gorgeous, but it is close to impossible to understand what is going on at any given moment. If handsome images and dreamlike editing are enough, the movie might work for a very select group of patient viewers and Zhang Ziyi fanatics. --Robert Horton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Ziyi Zhang, Tôru Nakamura, Ye Liu, Yuanzheng Feng, Bingbing Li
  • Directors: Ye Lou
  • Writers: Ye Lou
  • Producers: Ye Lou, Alain de la Mata, Jean-Louis Piel, Nai An, Vincent Maraval
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese, Vietnamese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Palm Pictures / Umvd
  • DVD Release Date: February 15, 2005
  • Run Time: 127 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0006N2EVY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,556 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Purple Butterfly" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on April 1, 2007
Format: DVD
This film is deeply intense. There is often silence that is thick with meaning. The camera often tells much of the story, honing in on the actors and actresses faces ... the spartan rooms ... the city scapes/ scenes ... the commotion of workers going to and from work ... the riots, protests and rebellions ... the crowds of people at the railroad station in Shanghai. The film begins in Manchuria, the year is 1928 when Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi) a Chinese young lady has a love affair with Itami (Toru Nakamura) a Japanese young man whose father is part of a Japanese delegation who are seeking political opportunity to destabilize the region. Times are tense, the atmosphere is ripe for political change and explosive events. Itami is called back to Japan to serve in the military and their brief but very passionate love affair is cut short.

The film is impressionistic and surreal in how it portrays events and relationships. There are clandestine organizations at work, and it is not often clear who is involved in what until some complicated twist and turn in the plot occurs to reveal the truth. Early in the film, Cynthia's brother is ambushed by a Japanese underground group. He is murdered before her eyes. This causes her to join the "Purple Butterfly" a clandestine Chinese resistance group who try to bring about justice for China and eliminate the Japanese threat.

Zhang Ziyi does an outstanding performance in this serious role. After witnessing her brother's murder, she takes on a false identity, Hui Deng, a nurse who works at Marion Hospital. Hers is a stellar performance along with Itami played by Toru Nakamura. Hui Deng participates in an assassination at the railroad station. There Szeto loses his lady love, accidentally killed in the crossfire.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Nieman on October 15, 2005
Format: DVD
Francis Ford Coppola once said that if he'd had a budget of one dollar for his film BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, he wanted to spend 95 cents on set design and costumes, with the remaining nickel spent on the screenplay.

Lou Ye's PURPLE BUTTERFLY follows that approach, although I would argue which film spent more conservatively on its writing.

The premise begins in Shanghai in 1928, a few years before the Japanese invasion. Zhang Ziyi plays Cynthia, whose Japanese boyfriend is called back to Tokyo. Coincidentally, Cynthia's brother is murdered immediately afterward for his anti-Japanese activism. She then joins a militant movement named Purple Butterfly, presumably motivated by her brother's death. Three years later, when her former boyfriend is found back in Shanghai, she is given the task of targeting him.

The film is often beautifully shot, with a lot of handheld camera movement suggesting a cinema verite style. Period design is outstandingly rendered, with lots of detail deep into the shots. The street scenes, interiors, and costumes provide a Chinese version of a film noir.

This is a real slow-burner of a movie, surprisingly devoid of substantial plot development. The film bogs down in lots of wordless interplay, suggestion, and furtive glances. The actors must carry numerous, protracted scenes in this manner, often in oddly framed, off-focus shots and extreme closeups. Scenes seem to go on and on without ever meaning very much. Even with a repertoire of expressions as varied as Zhang Ziyi possesses, the brooding never seems to end.

What perplexed me the most about this film was that its climax occurs only a quarter of the way through, turning the entire rest of the movie into a confusing muddle of flashbacks and foreshadowing.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Cubist on July 11, 2005
Format: DVD
Purple Butterfly is Lou Ye's follow-up to his dreamy Suzhou River, a Wong Kar-Wai-esque tragic love affair. This movie is also a tale of doomed romance set in 1930s Shanghai. In some respects, this is Ye's In the Mood for Love as Purple Butterfly is also a richly textured period piece about a love affair between two people that can never be together because of the dictates of their society. It's a classic story of a couple who should be together but meet in the wrong place and time in history.

Zhang Ziyi has such a wonderful, expressive face that Ye uses so well in the movie. For example, in one scene he captures the child-like glee on her face as she spots a cute knick-knack in a store window. In another scene, he shows the soul-crushing anguish on her face as she watches her brother and his friends blown apart on the street by a terrorist.

Lou Ye's film shows how revenge is a powerful motivator that transcends politics. It is the reason why Cynthia and Szeto do what they do in the movie. Tragedy has touched them so deeply and so profoundly that revenge is the only option that they have for some kind of closure. In their eyes, those responsible must also suffer. And yet, the Purple Butterfly's conclusion suggests that world events and politics ultimately eclipses what happens to these characters and what they do. They are at the mercy of fate and the machinations of history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 30, 2006
Format: DVD
To enjoy the Chinese-French film `Purple Butterfly,' some patience is required. To follow the story was hard for me (and I am a Japanese who knows the historical background of the film), but once you understand what is going on, you see the merits of this period romance. First, remember the following four characters.

Zhang Ziyi is Ding Hui/Cynthia, a Chinese girl whose brother is a member of one underground organization protesting against the Japanese invasion. The time is set in 1928, and the place is northern China, then called Manchuria. But one tragic thing happens to her brother, and she is also drawn into the activity of the organization.

Toru Nakamura, Japanese actor, plays Itami a Japanese whose father works as an interpreter in China. But young Itami must leave this country and his love Cynthia because he was drafted into the military service by the Japanese army. Three years later, Itami comes back to Shanghai as Japanese military officer, who had been trained for espionage in China. Now Itami meets Cynthia again in this city, but this time Cynthia's love seems to have a hidden agenda for she is meetig her new lover Xie Ming (Yuanzheng Feng).

In addition to the main story above, there is a sub-plot. Lie Ye (`Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress') plays Situ, a young, ordinary Chinese man. He and Yiling (Bingbing Li) are innocent sweethearts, but when Situ is mistaken for someone else at the crowded station, a tragic thing happens.

[Noir in China] The fates of the characters are closely intertwined with the film's complicated plot. This film can be called a romance, but it would be more correct to call it a noir film.
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