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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's probably the best Shanghai movie ever made. Also a very good spy drama.
Get the Korean DVD if you can, which has the original Mandarin soundtrack and optional... Read more
This film was hard for me to watch and stay interested. I think it was a strange role for Ziyi Zhang. In my opinion she was miscast.Published on August 16, 2013 by Ensign
This Zhang Ziyi film is a good movie in general. It is much more commercial than some of her previous works such as House of Flying Daggers an Touching Starlight. Read morePublished on August 6, 2012 by Doc Woods
I'm not stupid and this movie was a lot of work to watch. The effort involved in keeping track of the characters and action in this movie prevented me from immersing myself in the... Read morePublished on July 20, 2012 by HammerFan
I found the plot to be just a bit difficult to follow. Lots of double-crossing to sort out, and the story goes back and forth in time too. Read morePublished on November 22, 2010 by David Arnstein
The music from the Very (and I Mean Very) romantic dance scene with Situ (Lie Ye) and Yiling (Wonderful Bingbing Li) is listed in the film credits as "Could Not Get Your Love" --... Read morePublished on September 22, 2010 by Amazon Customer
Palm Pictures DVD represents either a poor transfer, or use of degraded film stock. Therefore, if you wish to watch this moody "art" film, I would recommend you rent it from... Read morePublished on April 28, 2008 by Elyon
Brilliant story of how love stuggles to grow in harsh and blistering conditions. The tale is not one told in a straightforward manner. Read morePublished on April 14, 2008 by Martial Arts Damsel