Release Date: July 20th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Lam Chi-ming, Lam Fan
Cast: Lau Siu-ming, Michelle Yim
Seasonal Film Corporation, 88 Minutes
The Butterfly Murders has been a pretty elusive movie in the United States. Released in Hong Kong in 1979, it never really had a release in English speaking markets. Strangely, it appeared recently on Amazon Video for free for those with a Prime account.
I had heard about this film in books I’ve read throughout my life and from Hong Kong film fans I’ve known over the years. Most of them had French or German copies and couldn’t really decipher what was happening in the film and had to guess based off of the visuals. The version on Amazon Video is thankfully subtitled in English.
To start, The Butterfly Murders is an interesting picture and it is pretty different from the majority of Hong Kong martial arts films of its era. In fact, even though martial arts exists in the film, it is secondary. The movie follows the path of a mystery and a thriller more than a standard action flick. The change from the norm is refreshing, as I expected a classic Hong Kong action adventure.
The plot sees our heroes venture to an enemy fortress to find that no one is there – it is a ghost town. They soon meet a girl who they quickly discover was hiding in caves under the castle. As the story unfolds, we learn of a swarm of killer butterflies and the film feels as if it is a bit supernatural. It is discovered that there is some sort of conspiracy and the butterflies are controlled by someone. Eventually, we meet an evil assassin clad in impenetrable black armor, who bests the heroes throughout their encounters in the caves and in the castle.
The ending is pretty unexpected but the approach to make this film different than the standard Hong Kong martial arts fare, works well – from beginning to end. This is a very satisfying film and is visually pleasing despite mostly taking place in underground caverns.
The only major complaint, is that the real action doesn’t pick up until 55 minutes into this 88 minute picture. While I appreciate The Butterfly Murders for not being formulaic, it does get a bit slow around the middle.
There are a lot more positives than negatives, however. The direction and the acting are good, the action is top notch for its time and some of the fighting sequences were executed wonderfully.
The Butterfly Murders is a pretty cool film, worth checking out – especially for those who want to see something really unique out of 1970s Hong Kong.