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Zi Hudie

Purple Butterfly

China/France 2003
produced by
Lou Ye, Wei Wang, Zhu Yongde, Jean Louis Piel (executive), Alain de la Mata (executive), Vincent Maraval (executive) for Shanghai Film Studios, Wild Bunch, Lou Yi Ltd, Dream Factory
directed by Lou Ye
starring Zhang Ziyi, Liu Ye, Feng Yuangzheng, Toru Nakamura, Li Bingbing, Ei Kin
written by Lou Ye, music by Jörg Lemberg, cinematography by Wang Yu (II)

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Manchuria 1931: On the same day as she is left by her Japanese lover Itami (Toru Nakamura), her brother is killed by a Japanese terrorist and Japan is invading Manchuria - which all is enough for Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi) to join the anti-Japanese underground ...

Shanghai 1937: Itami, suspected of being a Japanese spy, is arriving in the city to put up shop. Cynthia's organisation, led by Xie Ming (Feng Yuangzheng) awaits him at the train station to assassinate him - but due to a case of mistaken identities they instead try to kill Szeto (Liu Ye), an innocent Japanese who just wants to visit his girlfriend (Li Bingbing) who is shot dead in the chaos that ensues.

Szeto now is not only heartbroken but suddenly also of interest to both the Japanese secret service, led by Itami of course, and the underground, and both want to abuse him to get a lead to the other side, which brings him closer and closer to breaking point - and eventually he decides he has to assassinate Itami ...

Xie Ming in the meantime decides that it would be a good idea for Cynthia to get back together with Itami again to properly spy on him - which means great emotional pain for her, as she soon finds herself drawn between love and hatred - especially when he offers her to take her back to Japan with him to evade the Japanese army which will invade every day now ...

Ultimately, Xie Ming's gang decides to zero in on Yamamoto (Ei Kin), Itami's superior, while Cynthia is supposed to distract Itami at a gala dinner - but in the process of killing Yamamoto, Xie Ming and his whole organisation are wiped out as well. When Itami tells this to Cynthia - whom he has long grown wise to but still wants to take with him to Japan - she stabs him ... just before Szeto, more mad than ever, enters the scene and shoots Itami, then he shoots Cynthia too who has abused him just as badly as Itami ...

flashback to the day of the incident at the train station: Xie Ming and Cynthia make love (it has not previously been revealed that they were a couple), then get on their way to the trainstation ...

The ending shows archive footage of the Japanese invasion of Shanghai ...

 

A historical melodrama, not told in a pretentious and preposterous, glossy and over-budgeted way but rather as a small, private story (or several private stories intertwined), filmed primarily with shaky handcameras - which adds a new dimension to the generally underplayed action scenes -, with vintage pop music used to counterpoint the dramatic dieing scenes, saving them from becoming cheesy and clichéd. And then there's of course Zhang Ziyi who once again carries the movie seemingly without the slightest of effort, and she's given able support by most of the cast, especially Toru Nakamura.

Recommended.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
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Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
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the new anthology by
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Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
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out now on DVD