Director: Jingle Ma
Starring: Charlene Choi, Wu Chun, Hu Ge, Fan Siu-wong, Ti Lung
Assassin’s Blade, also known as The Butterfly Lovers, is a recent adaptation of the popular Chinese legend of the same name but within the context of a wuxia setting. Zhu Yanzhi (Charlene Choi) travels to a martial arts school as per the instructions of her father (Ti Lung) and childhood friend Ma Chengen (Hu Ge). Arriving at the school, and disguised as a man, she strikes up a fast friendship with Liang Zhongshan (Wu Chun) a fellow student. As the two grow closer, Liang discovers her true gender and both confess their love. With the pieces in place, will the two lovers be able to find each other when people and events conspire to tear them apart? Or will destiny prove too powerful for either of them?
This new take on the oft told tale finds the story relocated from a government school to the melodramatic, and much more prone to action, world of fantasy swordplay. When the film began, it was certainly on a much more lighthearted note than I was expecting, but it thankfully gets more serious for the final 2 acts. There are quite a bit of changes to the original tale, the least of which is the martial arts, and I was worried that there would be a gross alteration to the ending, but it was kept intact as changing this particular bit would have destroyed the allure of the original legend.
Choi has never been a particularly effective actress in my opinion, and she doesn’t really do much to change my mind. She is certainly attractive enough that I understand why she is still popular in the celebrity dominated realm of HK entertainment, but she is miscast in a period film. Her bubbly nature may be better suited in whatever comedy of the month she typically appears in, but not here. Wu Chun actually does a pretty decent job here, he smolders like heroes in these swordsmen films are supposed to do and baring some awkward looking stares, it is a pretty straightforward approach. Coupled with a surprise appearance by Ti Lung and a solid fight by Fan Siu Wong, there is a decent enough cast of veteran players to keep the film interesting.
Populist filmmaker Jingle Ma directs a pretty straightforward wuxia picture. He follows the typical flow of the romantic subgenre of wuxia down to the sappy theme song that while is eyerollingly cliché, still comforting to see on occasion. There is an unresolved subplot featuring a pretty evil looking government official, but he is more of a plot device than character. The film does the gender reveal pretty early and focuses on the main story fairly quickly, but it makes the first 30 minutes seem unnecessary. Flow is certainly a common problem in many wuxia films. The martial arts are fairly well done, with standouts including the aforementioned scene with Fan Siu Wong and a solid rain battle that was evocative of the Donnie Yen v. Jet Li fight in Hero. It should come as no surprise that action direction comes courtesy of Ching Siu Tung and sweeps of bladed weapons and cloth fill the screen.
In the end, The Butterfly Lovers comes off as wuxia-lite. Easily accessible and straightforward, it offers a chance for uninitiated viewers to get into the sometimes crazy world of Chinese swordplay films, without certain conventions that may scare off the less experienced (ie. transgendered characters, supernatural bestiality, and bizarre weaponry, among others.) It doesn’t have much to offer long time viewers, aside from some interesting fight choreography. Worth a look, the film offers some well-done elements, but there are MANY other more interesting and unique films available.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Flying Dagger, White Dragon, and Cat and Rat
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!