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Butterfly Sword (AKA Butterfly and Sword) - Special Edition

Tai Seng // Unrated // July 20, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 26, 2004 | E-mail the Author
When I first saw Butterfly and Sword (1993, aka. Comet, Butterfly, and Sword) it was a semi-revelation. The late 80's early 90's revival of the heroic swordplay film saw a blend of the fantastic sides of classic action directors like Chang Cheh and Chor Yuen brought into the 90's with modern sense of pacing and choreography. While I'd seen some of the off the wall old school classics, like the Chang Cheh stuff, I'd only seen magazine articles and short clips of the more new wave ventures. Needless to say, Butterfly and Sword was everything I expected and, at the time, a real jaw dropper.

The plot is pretty simple and really pretty negligible since it is ultimately all about the action. The dueling martial arts clans of Happy Villa and Elite Villa are in a bloody rivalry. Happy Villa's leader Eunuch Li sends his deadly flunky Sister Ko (Michelle Yeoh- Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Supercop) to intercept a document Elite Villa has that could discredit him. Sister Ko is part of a trio of kids raised and trained at Happy Villa. The other two are Yip Cheung (Donnie Yen- Hero) and Meng Sing Wan (Tony Leung- In the Mood for Love, Hard Boiled). The childhood friends are now engaged in an unrequited love triangle- Yip Cheung is love with Sister, who is in love with Meng Sing Wan, who has his own perfect mate in Butterfly (Joey Wong- Chinese Ghost Story). Needless to say the unloved pair are pretty miserable, Sister Ko is pretty cold and Yip Cheung is a boozehound.

Anyway, after Sister Ko and Yip Cheung fail, the indebted Meng Sing Wan, who had all but given up the martila world so he could get snuggly with Butterfly, has his death faked and goes undercover to get close to Master Suen (Elvis Tsui- Eternal Evil of Asia), Elite Villa's second in command... blah, blah, blah. What really matters is that the action director was Ching Sui Tung, the man behind the new wave, wire fu, and swordplay action of Swordsman 2, Herioc Trio, The East is Red and the Chinese Ghost Story series. The primary director was Sex and Zen Michael Mak, but really its Ching Sui Tung's whirling dervish choreography of twirling swordsmen, exploding bodies, and wacked out weapons that will win you over.

As a Taiwanese production this is on the low budget end of the spectrum. Butterfly and Sword would be cannibalized when action footage and costumes were later used for an even cheaper soft core leaning martial fantasy called Slave of the Sword. Whiel it may not be the greatest fantasy action film that the prolific early 90's HK cinema produced, Butterfly and Sword still has enough inventive action and popcorn thrills to keep action fans entertained. And, while the high profile stars may be slumming it a bit, they could do much worse.

The DVD: Tai Seng

Picture: Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. Well, disappointing to say the least. Digitally remastered? Well yeah, in the sense that a spotty print has been encoded onto the digital format. I'd say, due its spotty nature and lack of anamorphic enhancement, this was probably taken from one of the may preexisting Asian releases out there (Mei Ah-HK, Mercury-Malaysia, Ritek-Taiwan, Thunder Media-Taiwan). One of my earliest DVD purchases- before I knew any better and had no patience- was the Mercury DVD. Since the Thunder Media is fullscreen, I'd venture this was taken from the Mei Ah.

So, it is worn, weak, and it even has some slight picture jitter. In DVD's infancy, this was the norm for HK films. Back then, the idea of something being anamorphic or cleaned up seemed like a pipe dream. So, this is a quaint reminder, and I'll be kind and let it slide with half a star more than I should, simply because I cannot point you towards a nicer alterative.

Sound: Cantonese 5.1 or DTS, Mandarin 2.0, or English dub, with optional English subtitles. It is still always a bit silly when I see DTS on films like this, that original had low quality audio. I mean, really, there isn't that much improvement you can do... what's that old saying? You can put makeup on a pig but it is still a pig. That applies here, where the audio is pretty hollow and filled with generic action "whooshes" and sword "clangs", and it was never inteneded to have some sweeping surround presentation. So, it has the usual wear associated with HK films of its era and production quality.

Extras: Original ending. Full-screen, appears to be taken from the Thunder Media DVD release which, so far, is the only uncut version out there. -- A bunch of Tai Seng produced trailers for their releases-- Audio commentary by Tai Seng honcho Frank Djeng and "HK film expert"/author Ric Meyers. Kinky fetishist Ric Meyers has made a career out of his gift for colorful hyperbole, industry connections, and having written a film guide that he took sole credit for by removing his co-authors names (their sections being the best written and accurate portions of the book). Pretty routine track. No more informative than a quick internet search.

Conclusion: If it was any kind of improvement over other versions, I'd instantly give it a recommendation. However, most import savvy fans probably own a copy that is on par with this one. Worth a casual purchase at best.

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