would you rather have your butt kicked by, 2012 NYAFF Star Asia award winner
Donnie Yen, Michelle “The Lady” Yeoh, or Tony Leung? Leung would probably be the safest
choice. You certainly would not pick
Yeoh, if you know what’s good for you.
She is characteristically lethal and rather Machiavellian, but also
unexpectedly vulnerable in Michael Mak’s Butterfly Swords,
Well Go USA releases today on DVD.
fellow street urchins, Meng Sing-wan, Lady Ko, and Yip Cheung have become the
top assassins of the Happy Forest martial arts alliance. Lady Ko is the brains of the operation,
reporting directly to Eunuch Tsao.
Unfortunately, her patron is not long for this earth. As his nearly dying wish, he asks Ko to retrieve
a document proving the conspiracy between a rival eunuch and the rebellious
Estates Villa martial arts faction.
of the assassin’s life, Meng wants to settle down with Butterfly, the daughter
of a reformed martial artist. As far as
she knows, he is just a humdrum businessman, who happens to know an awful lot
about weapons. However, since the fate
of the empire is at stake, he agrees to go undercover with the Estates
Villas. Ko is supposed to look after
Butterfly while he is on assignment, but she rarely holds up her end of the
bargain. Even though Meng considers her “Sister”
Ko, she has always carried a torch for her not-really brother. Likewise, Yip pines for her, but his feelings
are definitely not reciprocated.
Meng and Ko’s status as sort-of but not really siblings, Butterfly Swords has an odd vaguely Tennessee Williams-V.C. Andres
vibe that sets in apart from other wuxia swordplay spectacles. While consistently preposterous, many of the
action sequences choreographed by Ching Siu-tung are quite inventive,
particularly a gravity-defying melee atop a bamboo forest (remember, those
trees bend but do not break). The
exposition is brief, yet confusing.
However, the longing triangle of Ko, Meng, and Yip works surprisingly well.
lynchpin of the film is unquestionably Yeoh.
She has some great action scenes with her decapitating scarf, but is
also quite convincing expressing Lady Ko’s yearnings and insecurities. Of the trio, Donnie Yen is probably the one
short-changed for screen time as Yip, but he still has some decent drunken
fight scenes. Tony Leung does not have
the same presence he would display in subsequent John Woo and Wong Kar-wai
masterworks, but he develops some engaging chemistry with Yeoh and Joey Wong’s
Butterfly, nonetheless. It is also nice
to see the latter in one of her final screen roles before she entered her
semi-retirement (periodically interrupted by special return appearances), even
if the character is a bit of a stock type.
Swords is not a transcendent
wuxia classic, but its willingness to go for broke is certainly
entertaining. Yet, its best moments are
the relatively quiet ones. Fans of Yeoh
and Yen (and isn’t that just about everyone?) should enjoy checking it out on
DVD, on-sale today (7/10) from Well Go USA, a company with offices in Texas,
China, and Taiwan, so they ought to know and thing or two about brawls and
Labels: Donnie Yen, DVD, Joey Wong, Martial arts cinema, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung