Butterfly and Sword
(Xin liu xing hu die jian) (1993)
Directed by Michael Mak Dong-Kit

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * *

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A group of childhood friends, the protagonists, who have become martial arts experts as adults fight another group of martial artists when the senior member of their own group, Ko (Michelle Yeoh), is told by an aged court eunuch to kill the head of the other group. The friends subsequently defeat their newfound enemies in a number of fights, go to the eunuch to tell him their mission has been a success, and are attacked by the eunuch, who is actually an evil fiend bent on taking over the martial arts world.

Michael Mak Dong-Kit's Butterfly and Sword is a fairly typical film of the Wu Xia or Flying Swordsman genre.

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As is often the case in martial arts movies, the conflicts of Butterfly and Sword are absolutely arbitrary and serve only to facilitate lengthy, elaborately choreographed fight scenes. Admirers of the genre will probably be accustomed to plots like that of Butterfly and Sword, but those uninitiated into the conventions of Kung Fu films will likely be bothered by the arbitrary nature of the conflicts between the characters. Such a person should, however, bear in mind that it is the fights, not the story, that are the film's reason for being.

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The action sequences themselves are colorful, elaborate, and exciting. Unfortunately, as a result of the director's frequent use of extremely tight, visually restrictive camera shots, the viewer may occasionally be a little confused as to what exactly is happening in them. Some are further weakened by intermittently low production values. The final fight sequence, I should add, is disappointing and somewhat ludicrous.

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While the movie's action scenes may be flawed, they do provide Butterfly and Sword with its most enjoyable moments. The remainder of the film is, frankly, rarely entertaining, and several scenes are burdened with absolutely juvenile attempts at comedy. In one such sequence, for instance, one of the male characters tries to hide a book of erotic drawings from his girlfriend as a modern man might hide a Playboy magazine. This is not, unfortunately, by any means, the only instance of this sort of childish humor. There are many others, and they are all equally grating.

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Although it almost goes without saying, I should, nevertheless, note that the acting in Butterfly and Sword ranges from adequate to inept and is particularly bad when humorous characters are portrayed.

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I cannot say that Butterfly and Sword is a good film. Its entertainment value does exceed its aesthetic quality, but even the former is limited by its juvenile humor, flawed fight sequences, and lack of any other qualities with which it could have been redeemed.

Review by Keith Allen

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