Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Black Butterfly (Nüxia Hei Hu die, 1968)

This go-round on Hai!Karate, we cover a Shaw Brothers joint from 1968, "The Black Butterfly'! This swordplay epic stars Lisa Chiao Chiao, Yueh Hua, and Ku Feng among a full cast. Lo Wei directs and also stars in this picture.

The Black Butterfly, played by Chiao Chiao, is actually less of a terrorizing figure than the initial appearance of her caharacter portrays. She's actually a Robin Hood type of character, robbing oppressive fat cats to give money to the poor disaster victims. By day, she's Kwan Bao Zhu, daughter of well known swordsman Gold Sword Kwan Yee(Tien Feng). Matters get a bit complicated because of the appearance of Liu Xi Xang(Hua), out to find a band of robbers in the town. The robbers are after the Butterfly after she got them for their gold a while before. The local magistrate is also after the Black Butterfly, and thinks that Drunken Beggar Loong San Fong(Yeung Ching Hing) is the culprit. San Fong is Bao Zhu's kung fu master, on account of Kwan Yee's unwillingness to teach his daughter any of his own skills because, she's a woman. (hrm.)San Fong is also an expert who poses as a drunk for a very good reason, explained later in the film. And Xi Xang, who Bao Zhu likes, is then coerced to hunt the Butterfly down by her dad. All of this intrigue leads the Black Butterfly into a face-off to clear her father's name and restore order to the town.

The Black Butterfly should be a real good film. But, truth be told, it can bore you. Part of it may do with the fact that being a wuxia film, that style focused more on having an operatic feel to scenes. Another element may be that it shares similarities to a film by Chor Yuen, The Black Rose, three years earlier, and that there may have been another flick done in 1960 under the same name with Lo Wei as director, although there's no real body of facts to confirm the latter. Chiao Chiao does well here, her fighting scenes conducted with flair and a good amount of force. She was one of the up and coming actresses Shaw was looking to make a star in the same vein as Ivy Ling Po and the late Linda Lin Dai. Yueh Hua plays to the vest as the strong, young hero Xi Xiang. A little too much. And that seems to bring up another thing - this film was laid out in cookie-cutter fashion. Lo Wei does have to be commended for making this picture more enjoyable. His work with the cinematography lends some thrill to the film, like when Black Butterfly skips over a lake like it was nothing. It makes the one or two instances where the wire work wasn't up to snuff easily overlooked. (Side note: look out for Sammo Hung in a low-tier role in this picture.) The Black Butterfly is one flick that might just be reserved for the real buffs of martial arts epics and not for the casual viewers out there; fair but not too great.

Rating: 2.5 Dragon Punches out of 5

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