Zhang Ziyi is best known to North American audiences as the hot chick from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Rush Hour 2. Not only is she a whole lot of fun to look at, but she's a pretty decent actress too (which, if you've seen CTHD or Hero, you already know). She's huge in Asia – she's been a spokesmodel for numerous products ranging from shampoo to soft drinks, and she's instantly recognizable over there, wheras here, likely due in part to the fact that she isn't fluent in English, she remains 'the hot chick from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Rush Hour 2.'
Purple Butterfly finds Zhang Ziyi playing Cynthia, who is a member of a Chinese resistance group called Purple Butterfly that are doing their part to oppose the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Along the way, she falls in love with a man named Itami (Toru Nakamura of 2009: Lost Memories), but soon after they meet he's sent home to do his civic duty and work for the Japanese army.
After Itami heads back to Japan, Cynthia's oldest brother is killed by a surprise attack from a very extreme Japanese faction. This sets her off (understandably) and she changes her name to Ding Hui and devotes herself full time to her work with Purple Butterfly to oust the Japanese. Sadly for Cynthia/Ding Hui, she's reunited with Itami when he ends up heading a group that are tasked with stopping Purple Butterfly, and their loyalty to their respective countries and to each other is put to the test.
Purple Butterfly starts off with an interesting premise. I admit, I like the melodramatic concept of two lovers torn apart by their political beliefs and because of the tensions between their two countries during the time that this film takes place. It could have made for an interesting paradox and should have lent the film a solid plot and some room to expand both the characters and their motivations. Sadly, this doesn't happen. None of the roles are developed enough to make you care about anyone and the story jumps around too much, never concentrating on one aspect of the story long enough to flesh it out and instead it ends up flip flopping for over two hours.
There are a couple of interesting shoot outs and action scenes in the movie but there aren't enough of them to make this one work as an fun 'no brainer' shoot'em up.
The anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen picture looks decent enough during the lighter scenes but contains a fairly thick coat of grain over top of it all, and tends to look really murky during the darker/night time scenes (which make up a lot of the film). Oddly enough, for a film that was made in 2003, there is quite a bit of print damage evident on the picture. Most of it is only minor, appearing in the form of specks or dots on the picture, but there are one or two minor scratches present here as well. Sadly, this transfer is nothing to write home about.
The Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track comes through nicely, with removable English subtitles also available. The action and gun play scenes make the most out of the surround speakers and there are a few times where the directional effects add some nice punch to the mix. Dialogue is pretty clean and clear without any hiss or distortion, and the lower end bounces around the subwoofer nicely as well. All in all, while there could have been a little more channel separation in a couple of scenes, this DVD sounds very nice.
The only extra features are a grainy trailer for the feature film, a couple of previews for three other Palm Pictures DVD releases, and a brief statement from the director printed on the inside of the packaging.
While Palm's presentation of Purple Butterfly is okay (though the video could have been better), the movie suffers from pacing problems and a story that jumps all over the place and doesn't really go anyway. Zhang Ziyi sure is pretty, but that doesn't mean you should bother with this one. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.