Sunday, 25 January 2015

Purple Butterfly (2 Stars)

Cynthia is Chinese, Itami is Japanese. They fall in love when they go to school together in Manchuria in 1928. After school they're separated when Itami has to go back to Japan to do military service. They meet again five years later in Shanghai. Cynthia works for the Chinese resistance, while Itami is head of the Japanese secret service in Shanghai.

In itself, that setting could have made a first class film, especially with a world class actress like Zhang Ziyi playing the role of Cynthia. But the film fails miserably. The problem is that the director, Lou Ye, attempted to be artistic, but missed the mark. The film's dialogue is kept to a minimum, which adds to the atmosphere, but it also makes it unclear who people are and why they're doing things. Added to this, the film is non-linear, jumping forwards and backwards in time. Some of the events are repeated from different characters' point of view, which worked in "Jackie Brown", but only adds to the confusion in "Purple Butterfly". In the final scene (chronologically) we see Cynthia and Itami dying in one another's arms, which seems like the film's end. Instead of that a 10-minute scene follows in which Cynthia is having sex with the resistance leader a few years earlier, after which the two walk through the streets of Shanghai heading towards a job at the railway station, which ended in a shoot-out that we saw in the first half hour of the film. During the rest of the film there had been no hints of an affair between Cynthia and the resistance leader, so this was totally out of place. I sat afterwards wondering what the director was trying to say. Confusing.

In case you think that it's only me who doesn't understand the film, this is what Amazon's reviewer Robert Horton has to say:

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 1930's China. The movie's central dilemma comes when her ex-lover, a Japanese agent, returns to Shanghai and is earmarked for assassination by Purple Butterfly. This compelling-sounding set-up is frustratingly unfulfilled, as director Ye Lou 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.

I'm a Zhang Ziyi fanatic, but I'm sorry, it didn't work for me.

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