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M Butterfly VHS
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
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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.
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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Cronenberg's movie M. Butterfly is full of unexpected twists and turns. The French-American diplomat Rene Gallimard has fallen for a Chinese Opera...Read more