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Butterfly Lovers
Butterfly Lovers     Butterfly Lovers

(left) Wu Chun prepares for battle, and (right) Charlene Choi stands around watching in Butterfly Lovers.
Chinese: 武俠梁祝  
Year: 2008
Director: Jingle Ma Chor-Sing
Action: Ching Siu-Tung

Wu Chun, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Hu Ge, Harlem Yu, Ti Lung, Xiong Xin-Xin, Bonnie Xian,Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Shaun Tam Chun-Yin

  The Skinny: A solid disappointment. Jingle Ma's update of the classic Butterfly Lovers story wastes a good cast and an interesting concept with all-around poor execution. Fans of Charlene Choi and Wu Jun may still enjoy looking at the stars, but that may be the extent of their enjoyment. Call me when there's another remake.
by Kozo:

If you want to see a good idea gone wrong, then check out Butterfly Lovers. This reinterpretation of the classic story of Leung Shan-Pak and Cheuk Ying-Toi is a welcome concept, as it pairs red-hot Taiwanese idol Wu Chun of boy band Fahrenheit with still quite popular Charlene Choi of Twins. Add in a martial arts setting and some choreography from the dependable Ching Siu-Tung and you have the recipe for a can't-miss commercial film that should please teens and even adults. After all, the 1994 Tsui Hark version of this classic tale also starred teen idols (Nicky Wu and Charlie Young), but it was still accessible and affecting even for adults. Generally speaking, Butterfly Lovers sounds like a fine idea.

Unfortunately, director Jingle Ma doesn't deliver. The not-quite-auteur of the Tokyo Raiders films has turned in decent commercial films in the past (Summer Holiday, Playboy Cops, to name two), but his instincts have been far from unerring (Silverhawk, anyone?). Ma is a fine cinematographer but just a competent director, and when he gives himself a screenwriting credit you'd be forgiven for being skeptical. Luckily, Ma has the classic Butterfly Lovers story to back him up, meaning even his unproven screenwriting skills can't mess this one up, right? Sadly, that's not the case. The screenplay of the new Butterfly Lovers is achingly unimaginative, with a routine narrative, verbalized plot points, and an only marginally diverting sense of humor. Despite a couple of new or borrowed twists, the story and script here are as average as you can get. Basically, this one requires the stars to save it.

Story first. Butterfly Lovers immediately establishes itself as an alternate take on the famous story by declaring that Shan-Pak and Ying-Toi are star-crossed lovers fated to fall in love, die tragically, and get resurrected throughout eternity. The tale of legend is but one version, with this film qualifying as another variation. As such, the characters only possess variants on the classic names, and new characters abound in place of old ones. Charlene Choi is Zhu Yan-Gi, a young female who's enrolled in the all-male Soul Ease Clan in order to learn martial arts and general kick-assery. She's given a shot even though she doesn't have any skills, is as weak as she looks, and won't get naked to romp in the river with the boys. In one key moment, her new classmates haze her by throwing her into the river and then stripping her. Obviously removing her clothing would reveal certain assets not possessed by a normal male. How does Yan-Gi get out of this one?

Who knows? The film cuts away and the next thing you know, she's somewhere else suffering from a cold. Luckily, she's nursed back to health by the school's "Big Bro", the hunky Liang Chun-Shan (Wu Jun), who's originally at odds with Yan-Gi. However, Chun-Shan is asked by wacky teacher and Yan-Gi confidante Herbal Head (Taiwanese songwriter Harlem Yu, in the film's one completely likable performance) to mentor her. So that's what Chun-Shan does, taking care of Yan-Gi as she becomes smitten with him in return. The push-and-pull of first love should be the key to these early scenes, and Ma does get some of these moments right. Both Wu Chun and Charlene Choi are undeniably easy on the eyes, and Choi's girlishness is occasionally charming. Unfortunately, the tension inherent in the situation - that she's a girl playing a guy's role, and fears being discovered - is pretty much brushed aside. Yan-Gi rarely seems to sweat acting like a guy, and Choi doesn't do much to shore that up. That's fine from a certain audience standpoint, as Charlene Choi acting like typical Charlene Choi is exactly what some people paid to see. Narratively, however, it's a major strike against the film.

An even bigger strike: the fact that the romance never fully convinces, and is soon usurped by another storyline. Yan-Gi and Chun-Shan's budding romance is interrupted by the evil machinations of Yan-Gi's intended, Ma (Mainland actor Hu Ge), whose entire being seems to revolve around possessing Yan-Gi for his own amorous desires. That's all well and good, but the change shifts the story from the expected tradition-buckling romance to an uninteresting and senseless conspiracy involving suppressed desire and court intrigue. This is also when the forced separation of the lovers is supposed to cause all the emotions to swell up and the tears to rain down - which it does, but only onscreen. Offscreen, i.e. in the audience, a possible response could be silence or even an impatient checking of the clock. Jingle Ma wants the audience to know that the situation is sad, so he shows how sad everything is. The characters walk slowly in a daze, the music swells unbearably, and the film slows to an interminable crawl because, well, this is so sad, dammit! What Ma neglects to do is actually convince the audience of the situation and the emotions.

At least there's action. Well, maybe not. Ching Siu-Tung does provide some decent choreography, but the staging is not always impressive. Some action is bothered by medium close-ups and some annoying moving camera, and the climactic face-off between Chun-Shan and Ma is rendered in overwrought slow motion intercut with Yan-Gi's sad, porcelain features. The reason why: well, it's sad. There is some poignancy in seeing Charlene Choi's take on this classic role, but Wu Chun and Hu Ge portray their rivalry with so many desperate facial expressions that the film becomes dangerously homoerotic. Jingle Ma's overwrought handling only naturally creates guffaws - that is, if you're not so bored already that you can still laugh. And the final fate of the two lovers? Borderline disturbing. There's some connection to the original ending in the outcome, but the staging is so inept that it becomes tasteless rather than touching.

The actors themselves aren't terrible. They're mostly constrained by the bad script and direction; Wu Jun is barely given the chance to display any personality, and Hu Ge's role mostly requires him to overact ardently. Only Charlene Choi gets a chance to really shine, but sadly, no amount of loveable perkiness or despairing gazes can conquer the bad filmmaking going on. Jingle Ma gets the majority of the blame here. Besides, the poor script and direction, he serves up his now typical cinematography (slightly overblown whites, soft focus), while also opting for garish, clashing colors in some key scenes. The whole would barely pass muster as a music video, though it's conceivable that certain elements about the production - like the stars - were considered so foolproof with audiences that the filmmakers didn't think they needed to try that hard. We'll see if the box office bears out their marketing plans, but as a genuine film, Butterfly Lovers is a failure. The one real bright spot is that this story is timeless, and will doubtlessly be remade again. An improvement on Butterfly Lovers seems likely. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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images courtesy of Mei Ah Entertainment Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen