A bonafide classic if you ask me, Michelle Khan stars as a loyalist who attempts to keep the King’s empire from being overthrown by a revolutionary group. Add in the always charming, greatly lamented Tony Leung as her innocuous-secret-identity-guy brother, a plot would almost get in the way. Oh, what was that? Yeah, just like most kung-fu films of the 90’s era, the plot is thin. If you can embrace the sacrifice of story in favor of pure action and character development in favor of raw screen power, you will have a great time watching this movie. There is very little walking in this film. Everyone twirls, flies, swings, flips, rotates, revolves (is that different from rotate?), levitates, somersaults, jacknifes, and…I’m losing track here, but you get the idea. To sum it up, it is a strange amalgam of brutal and unusually bloody kung-fu, and a complex love triangle.
The cinematography is rich, the pacing is quick…There’s plenty for the eye to see and for the mind to absorb. In fact, almost too much the first time round; which is why you need to see it at least a second time to really appreciate it. This movie is definitely not for those with a weak stomach because there is a lot of blood, flying limbs, impailings, and other sorts of gruesome deaths. The martial arts action is sometimes hard to see because of the direction, but that’s what makes it look like such a frenzy. There’s lots of wirework and other unbelievable stunts like that. Furthermore, when I watched the end of this film, it seemed to end suddenly without even a proper ending…what happened as soon as Yeoh turned her back to the screen? But, the acting of the leads helps a lot too. Tony Leung is full of charisma, Joey Wong all sweet and innocent, Michelle Yeoh amusingly mean and bitchy yet with a streak of pathos and Donnie Yen likable and a little melancholy.
If as much time and effort had been spent on the narrative as on the creative martial arts choreography, Butterfly and Sword would be an almost perfect piece of entertainment. Butterfly and Sword is choreographed by the amazing Ching Siu Tung and I beleive this film to be his best work. The action sequences are so mind-boggling but also so unbelievably hilarious you will be on the floor in stitches. With stars such as Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen you just can’t go wrong and while their acting performances are less than stellar, we all know its the action that counts and this flick delivers in spades. The human arrow sequences are a riot, especially the first one where Tony Leung goes through at least a dozen flunkies without blinking. And without getting any blood and guts on his clothes. Neat! Films like these define my childhood so please excuse me if my rating below is a bit bias.
The relationship between the characters is quite complex. Tony Leung and Joey Wang are lovers. However, Tony is loved by Michelle Yeoh who is in turn loved by Donnie Yen. The problem that exists with the characters is that I really didn’t have any sympathy for them, except Donnie Yen. The characters are fairly well-defined but they seemed emotionally distant. It’s got enough inventive and dizzy action scene choreography to keep a kung fu fan entertained. The characters work well and the story doesnt really let things drag. You cant ask for much more out of a kung fu movie. While it may not give viewers the same enthralling rush that Fist of Legend and Bride with White Hair did, it still is a slightly above average kung fu movie and worth watching. Also, this movie has an arresting visual style. In the end, this film comes recommended mostly due to a throwback of the good ol’ days where films were full of wonder and excitement. Many thanks to Well Go USA for re-releasing this film for a new generation!