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DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese/Mandarin Language
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Interviews, Music Video, Trailers

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc


24th Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best New Artist (Tian Yuan)

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  Chinese: 蝴蝶  
  Year: 2004  
Director: Yan-Yan Mak
Producer: Jacqueline Liu, Yan-Yan Mak
Writer: Yan-Yan Mak, Chen Xue (original story)
  Cast: Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Tian Yuan, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Isabel Chan Yat-Ning, Joman Chiang Cho-Man, Redbean Lau, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Pauline Yam Bo-Lam, Kenneth Tsang Kong, Carl Ng Ka-Lung, Candy Hau Woon-Ling, Calvin Poon Yuen-Leung
The Skinny: Well-made and worthy, but also a little off-target. Butterfly is a film with intriguing characters and real-feeling situations, but even with a two hour-plus running time, a lot feels left out. Still, Yan Yan Mak's low-budget indie is refreshing stuff, and the acting (especially from Josie Ho) is exceptionally strong.

by Kozo:

The Hong Kong indie scene gets a lift with Butterfly, a well-meaning, well-made, but probably a bit too ambitious independent drama. Josie Ho is Flavia, a seemingly happily-married teacher with a baby daughter and no apparent issues. But that's just on the surface. In actuality, Flavia is a closeted lesbian, and has been since who knows when. Now turning thirty, Flavia has her inner desires reignited when she meets Yip (Tian Yuan), a singer who immediately catches her eye, and perhaps her heart. The two form an immediate bond, and Flavia seemingly yearns to stray from her husband Ming (Eric Kot), but somehow she can't fulfill her own desires. This isn't surprising, since Flavia is trapped - not just within the usual societal mores of sexuality, but also within confines of propriety, commitment, responsibility, and that pesky thing known as history.

Back in the late eighties, Flavia (played as a young girl by Isabel Chan) was involved in a relationship with close friend Jin (Joman Chiang), a human rights activist, and the time the girls spent together was one of unbridled affection and carefree existence. Except, there is no such thing as carefree existence. Outside pressures (family, jealousy, etc.) got in the way of a happily-ever-after for Flavia and Jin, and in the present, Jin has become a nun, while Flavia went on to her loveless marriage to Ming. Now that Yip has entered Flavia's life, a sea change could be in the works. After all these years, it's time for Flavia to confront who she is, and who she wants to be. Like the titular butterfly, Flavia's years of "normal life" are a gestation period, and only with Yip's arrival can Flavia finally break free from her cocoon and spread her wings. But not without breaking a few eggs.

Metaphors aside, Butterfly is a remarkably complex portrait of a single woman, and she's portrayed powerfully by Josie Ho, one of Hong Kong's most gutsy and underappreciated actresses. There's plenty to like in director Yan Yan Mak's independent drama. Aside from the artful style, handheld camerawork, and affecting intimacy, Butterfly posits a portrait of a woman that represents the closeted person within all of us. Flavia's journey is one which asks her to finally take the steps necessary to be true to herself - even if it means challenging society, expectations, or those she loves to get it done. There's a wonderful and completely worthy message in Butterfly, and it's not hidden at all. Rather, it's pushed upon us with an obviousness that's both necessary - by it's very subject matter, Butterfly is obviously about this theme - and a little unfortunate. Because, in being so much about one woman, the connection to the rest of us gets a little lost.

Butterfly is predominantly an internal drama, in that everything is meant to speak to the changes and turmoil happening within Flavia. Josie Ho is remarkable in that she's given precious few speeches to convey her feelings. Instead, it's actions, emotions, and plenty of relevant flashback that's meant to reveal what's going on within her confused, troubled soul. The revelations in the flashbacks are necessary, but a little long-winded. Essentially, we see through the numerous grainy interludes that Flavia and Jin were torn apart by exterior forces, while together they shared a love and intimacy that transcended all. The problem: these scenes are numerous, but the extended time spent there doesn't really reveal that much. Director Mak revisits these scenes time and time again for new snippets of info or revealing dialogue, but the constant timeshifting seems to extend the film more than reveal anything more.

Furthermore, characters in the present are given only truncated life. Eric Kot turns in a surprisingly intense performance as the inherently likable, but still somewhat shrill Ming, who ends up as Collateral Damage Victim #1 in Flavia's quest for personal independence. Eventually, her decisions impact him greatly, and the actor does what he can with his brief scenes. However, it's not enough, and we can only gleam what's happening with him through our own minor deduction. Tian Yuan turns in a magnetic, startlingly charismatic performance as Yip, but her character seems to be more of an enabler for Flavia than a living, breathing human being. Yip is the film's catalyst, but she doesn't seem to be much more than that.

On the other hand, there are numerous scenes which probably could have been trimmed, or even cut. Extended sequences detail Flavia's relationships with her family, particularly her wayward dad (Kenneth Tsang), and her emotionally-troubled mom (Redbean Lau). Her family's hidden, yet still-bubbling turmoil plays a large part in her current issues, and we get that early on. However, thanks to numerous other flashbacks and a few minor scenes, we get more Flavia and family than is probably necessary. This is in addition to the "everyday" shots, e.g. Flavia tending to her child, working, attending family functions, pensively contemplating the world outside her window, etc., etc. All these sequences are appropriate and, thanks to Josie Ho, exceptionally felt, but there are simply far too many of them.

Hong Kong's famed auteur Wong Kar-Wai is famous for shooting miles and miles of film, but few of his movies (2046 being the one major exception) clocks in at over ninety-five minutes. The reason is economy: Wong sifts through tons and tons of dailies to find the story he wants to tell, and tells it. Yan Yan Mak tells a story in Butterfly, but she doesn't economize, leading to a film that's probably longer than it needs to be (Butterfly has a running time of 124 minutes). Butterfly is essentially about Flavia and Flavia only, and too much of that is not necessarily a good thing. Flavia's story is meant to represent us all (at least, that's what the DVD cover copy says), but that's lost beneath the copious Flavia-centric content.

Still, Butterfly is intriguing, worthy stuff that should be seen by anyone who wants more out of Hong Kong Cinema than the latest Twins laffer. It features real-feeling situations, fine acting, and a complexity of emotion and situation that's remarkable. If the above gripes are saying anything it's that Butterfly is perhaps too ambitious; it attempts a universal portrait of Hong Kong people through a laser-tight focus on one woman, and spends so much time there that it becomes a bit too much. That's unfortunate, because Butterfly is revealing, risk-taking, and rewarding. Hopefully Yan Yan Mak will have many more opportunities to tell her stories, because even if Butterfly doesn't exactly soar, it shows that in time Yan Yan Mak may have the means to fly. (Kozo 2005)

images courtesy of Filmko Entertainment Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen