Well Go Usa // 1993 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // July 6th, 2012
You have no idea how horrible the martial arts world is.
If you go into Hong Kong martial arts cinema of the early 1990s hoping for a good coherent plot, you're in the wrong genre. If you're looking for absurd wire action, you've come to the right place. Rarely are either of those statements more true than in the case of Butterfly Swords (previously known as Butterfly and Sword), which is as poorly-told a film as you'll find anywhere, but the action is hilarious.
The story, such as it is, involves a group of assassins known as "The Happy Forest," tasked by the big boss to steal a letter from the Grand Eunuch Tsao (Kuo-Chu Chang, The Cruel Kind) which will start an uprising guaranteed to change the balance of power. However, a betrayal is afoot, so Lady Ko (Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Sing (Tony Leung, Infernal Affairs), and Yip Cheung (Donnie Yen, Ip Man) must band together to set things right.
Honestly, some of that plot synopis could be off, because Butterfly Swords is one of the most confusing stories I've seen in a long while. It's impossible to care about any of these characters, because they are all woven into plot threads that never go anywhere. There's a little romance between Sing and Butterfly (Joey Wang, City Hunter) -- a clueless girl who thinks Sing is a poet/fisherman instead of an assassin -- but the only character growth is her realization of who this man really is. Aside from that, the film is nothing more than a complete mess.
None of that really matters, though, because people are here to see the action, which Butterfly Swords delivers in spades. Of course, none of these fight sequences make all that much sense either, but it's chock full of utterly bizarre nonsense. This is the magic weapons and wire fu style of Hong Kong martial arts, so people flying at enemies, cutting them down, and turning them into puffs of dust are commonplace. The best stuff involves Sing shooting himself from a bow, a scarf that can decapitate enemies, and a bouncy ball that can (somehow) do serious damage.
There's carnage-a-plenty on tap and it helps to make an otherwise awful movie watchable. Director Michael Mak (Sex and Zen) -- who never did much before or after Butterfly Swords -- delivers the fights, but his work with actors and cinematography leaves plenty to be desired. If you can get beyond the absolutely awful story ridiculous fighting, there's much to enjoy.
Unfortunately, Butterfly Swords has received a shoddy release from Well Go USA. The box claims the image 16:9 anamorphic, but it is indeed a non-anamorphic transfer that looks no different from the old Tai Seng VHS releases of a decade ago. The picture is small, the colors are washed out, and the print has suffered considerable damage; dirt and scratches everywhere, and a haze covering the entire image. There's absolutely no excuse for such poor work. The audio is certainly better. Two mixes -- Dolby 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo -- both clean though a bit muddy, but somehow come across as neary identical.
Butterfly Swords may make absolutely no sense, but the action is intense and ridiculous enough to satisfy fans of the genre. It's by no means a classic, but just crazy enough to work.
Review content copyright © 2012 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go Usa
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Mandarin)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Mandarin)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated