The Butterfly Murders:”Well, a common man in the martial world is usually looked down by the others.”

Year: 1979
Directed by Tsui Hark
Produced by Ng See-Yuen
Written by Lam Chi-Ming and Lam Fan
Cast: Lau Siu-Ming, Michelle Yim, Shu Tong Wong, Qiqi Chen, Chiang Wang, Chang Kuo-Chu, Eddy Ko, Kuang-Li Hsia, Wynn Lau, Ma-San See, Xieqi Zhou, and Danny Chow

A string of murders draws in a warring clan to a mysterious castle where a dark conspiracy will unravel.

The directorial debut of Tsui Hark is, undeniably, a peculiarity. The Butterfly Murders is a dramatic entrance of a director whose proclivity for creativity and genre blending would make him world famous. The Butterfly Murders is simultaneously a conventional and unconventional film. In the sense, Tsui Hark’s directorial debut is an odd genre blend. And, plot-wise, is hardly that different from many martial art titles under the Shaw Bros. The Butterfly Murders is highly distinctive because of its setting, aesthetics and art design. Hark envisions a harsh alternate world a concept that he would not revisit until The Blade, 16 years later. The ahistorical world in The Butterfly Murders is removed from our own and faintly retro futuristic in its technology. It lives up to its name of delivering killer butterflies since the murderous butterflies are conveyed very convincingly with an attention to detail. An attention to detail that extends to the sets as well. The Butterfly Murders probably contains one of the best showcases of worldbuilding ever in a martial art picture. Tsui Hark and his team being able to craft such great worldbuilding really allows us to soak in the atmosphere of the story.

Brillant concepts can’t make up for lackluster execution. Needless to say, brilliant concepts are defined by their execution. The Butterfly Murders suffers from a mediocre execution. Tsui Hark’s first outing fails to live up to the potential that the amazing worldbuilding builds up. While the mystery has atmosphere to back it up, it falls short due to dumps of awkward expositional dialogue. The core cast of characters are bit too passive and don’t have enough action scenes. And, poor editing leaves the action scenes much to be desired. These flaws leave too many lulls in the plot.

The Butterfly Murders as a first outing is an impressive feat of a director. Tsui Hark’s directorial debut is charmingly quirky in its cinematic direction although it fails to fulfill its full potential.

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