A journalist attempting to solve a mystery in "Martial World" enlists the aid of a master fighter and a woman named Green Breeze. They go to a mysterious castle where they come across poisonous butterflies and a black-leather-clad killer.
Boss Tien, leader of the Tien Clan, receives a letter from Master Shum asking for help: there have been numerous strange deaths at his castle involving poisonous butterflies. Joining Tien and his clan are female warrior Green Shadow and scholar Fong, all of whom are in danger, not just from the deadly insects but also from a fearsome masked killer clad in black armour.
The Butterfly Murders has been described as a martial arts giallo, and it's easy to see why: coming from director Tsui Hark, there is obviously kung fu, but the plot is just as bizarre as many an Italian murder mystery, with one of the craziest methods of murder imaginable (butterflies!). There is also no shortage of style, Tsui providing some stunning visuals.
Unfortunately, the film didn't satisfy me as either an action flick or a horror/thriller: the martial arts are fairly unimpressive, while the story is so convoluted that it wasn't long before I didn't have a clue what was going on. A protracted scene of exposition did nothing to help matters. The Butterfly Murders is an undeniably unique debut from one of Hong Kong's most celebrated directors, but it's far from his best. The new MEI AH DVD "The Butterfly Murders" is a very welcome release, as the only time I have seen this debut effort by TSUI HARK was by watching a very poorly transferred VCD.
The story is confusing enough without having subtitles wholly obscured. That is what happened with the VCD.
The film seems to be only sympathetic towards two characters FONG the writer and a female warrior GREEN SHADOW. In turn they appear allied to the TIEN clan leader, who has also been invited to the SHUM castle.
The castle becomes another character - its exterior grim and barren when the main characters arrive, rather those in AGATHA CHRISTIE's "Ten little Indians". And when they are subjected to the first of many relentless attacks by butterflies, they find refuge underground.
The underground is a maze, with mysterious rooms suddenly appearing and concealing the butterflies themselves; arsenals of elaborate weapons, and so forth.
I wonder if we were not intended to be as confused as all those invited to the castle, to their deaths, as the film plays out: to know is to die, to quote Darius Jedburgh ("Edge of darkness," 1986).
This is one of the few HK films that I have seen that has thrown me re its plot and its characters: it took me a long time to really identify the actors and their characters. That said, I was very impressed with the staging of the action which is plentiful and varied; intrigued with the villain and his suit of body armour (it seemed something out of a Mario Bava slasher film), and quietly applauded the cynical ending, but was upset that once again the filmmakers should use so much Jerry Goldsmith ("Planet of the apes") and Ennio Morricone ("Moses") in the soundtrack.
An entertaining debut by Tsui Hark! 646f9e108c
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