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Butterfly Swords DVD Review

/ Jul 13th, 2012 No Comments

I doubt more than 10 men could wear my hat.
Butterfly Swords Box Art

Butterfly Swords Box Art

Butterfly Swords or Butterfly & Sword or Butterfly Sword is a kung fu film from 1993 starring Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen. Butterfly Swords falls into the period of kung fu films relying heavily on wire fu from the early to late 90s. The reason for this DVD to have a new title/translation of the original title is unclear. It could be to differentiate it from previous releases of the film or it could be to make it seem like a newer film. Whatever the case is for the new title, the film remains a total clusterF. There are not enough words in the human lexicon to describe the insanity of this film. The movie seems like a Keanu Reeves’ fever dream. A rose by another name would still be as ridiculous.


Even after reading the plot synopsis on the packaging, it cannot reconcile what the viewer sees on the screen. Here are a few of the many subplots running throughout the film (all of which do not really matter nor amount to much): Tony Leung’s character, Meng Sing-Wan, tries to keep his life as a number one martial artist from his naïve and trusting wife, Butterfly (played by Joey Wang). The reasoning behind this deception seemingly comes from Butterfly’s past where her father was some kung fu master who died or something and she would not stand for Meng kung fuing about town. Naturally in this situation, Meng makes up some cover about being a merchant (in addition to acting clumsy because clumsy people do not know kung fu [Life lessons]). Meng’s older sister, Sister Ko (Michelle Yeoh) and orphan brother or something, Yip (Donnie Yen) try to keep up this ruse while taking care of Butterfly when Meng is off doing some martial arts missions. It is insane and it would make more sense if Meng kept his kung fu allies from his non-kung fu wife.

There is another subplot about Yip pining and secretly loving Sister Ko, but she just does not like him that way. Rather, she fancies Meng, but he is married and all, so that does not work out too well for her. Yip constantly tries to win Ko’s affections throughout the movie by doing all types of stuff that is both heroic and foolish, but she just does not feel that way about him (Sorry, bro). Then there is how Butterfly finds out about his crush and teases him about it then he somehow confides in her for some reason. This relationship between Yip and Butterfly is typified by the opposite dynamic, Yip being super serious and Butterfly being naïve, whimsical and flighty. They are some regular goofs.

I doubt more than 10 men could wear my hat.

I doubt more than 10 men could wear my hat.

A back-story pops up about a third of the way through the film, but it has no introduction or shift from the film’s main tone, so it just seems like some spliced footage from another movie. Basically, it details how Meng, Yip and another girl, Ho Ching are orphans. They end up crossing one of Sister Ko’s gang members (there is a delightfully hilarious sight gag of a bunch of fat kids or not. More likely not hilarious…) and she ends up sending her “fatty gang” after them. When they beg for mercy, she has them steal a sword from some drunkard and they get away with it. They become her new gang and that is how Yip and Meng are part of her kung fu assassin group in the present day. Somewhere in the midst of the movie, Ho Ching shows up again and Meng has to deal with his feelings about her while remaining faithful to Butterfly.

Then there is the main plot where Lord Tsao asks Sister Ko to steal secretly a letter from Lord Suen Yuk Pa. The letter details some kung fu treachery between him and another lord that would bring down the wrath of the king on the kung fu world. There is a convoluted plot about how to go about getting the letter that involves a lot more kung fu treachery to expose the initial kung fu treachery. All the while, the audience learns of the dysfunctional father/son relationship between Lord Suen and his son (a bumbling and clearly fey stereotype). There is plenty of talking about plans and strategy without seeing how any of that plays out. It all builds to the supposed final showdown between Sister Ko and Lord Suen, which is an all out kung fu brawl. Finally, when everything seemingly wraps up and the film is going to ride to its resolution, oh no, more kung fu treachery!


I know kung fu.

I know kung fu.

Sure, the plot is incomprehensible. The writing is poor and stilted with moments of humor that lead nowhere, but who cares? What is the action like? Now do not get into a tussle, the action in Butterfly Swords is subtle and features well-crafted hand-to-hand combat of reasoned close quarters martial arts. No, that is a lie. The action here is pure lunacy. It is somehow more insane than the plot. There are moments here where a man uses a bow to launch himself at enemies! After watching this movie, if the viewer were to describe some of the action sequences to another person, that person could safely assume the viewer recently took so much acid. Sister Ko manipulates fabric into swords, spears and bow strings (to launch men at other men). Everyone in this film flies, often jumping forty feet in any given direction. All fights somehow defy gravity without any rhyme or reason. Some of the fights and action sequences in the movie actually work very well when it is not indulging in the more flamboyant and unrestrained impulses that plagues wire fu films.


Butterfly Swords features a Cantonese audio track in both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Stereo. The audio is not bad at all. The exaggerated steel clash sound effects really come through well. The score, however, is rough and often fairly obnoxious, so the good sound quality just drives home how grating it is at times. The video transfer here is poor. It looks like a VHS to DVD transfer, often the video will show film scratches (which admittedly might be how the original reel looked, but regardless nothing has been done to improve the quality [those preferring nothing but the original source will enjoy that]). It features a small aspect ratio, which means the film is boxed in tremendously. The film clearly looks like it is from the early 90s. Age has not been kind to the video quality. The DVD features no extras.


Butterfly Swords has some intrigue in the form of its action and how the flamboyance of the wirework is at times lyrical in its lunacy. The final fight scene may just be worth investing the 87 minutes that the movie runs, but probably not. As a film, there is not much here to admire. The writing is poor and the plot is all over the place never fully congealing into something coherent, the direction is too frenetic and cuts too often, and while the acting is not bad, it is nothing impressive. In the end, unless someone really wants to see some early work of Donnie Yen or Michelle Yeoh then there is not a whole lot here.


Entertainment: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Originality: 6/10
Video: 5/10
Audio: 7/10


Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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