Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 21, 2005 11:33 pm 
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A note, because so few people seem to have seen this movie

Saw Purple Butterfly in NYC the beginning of December. I missed Xiao cheng zhi chun or Springtime in a Small Town by director Tian Zhuangzhuang shown there in early May. Quite likely Springtime is the better movie of the two by a wide margin. It's based on an earlier Chinese film according to J. Hoberman of the Village Voice:
Quote:


Fei Mu's 1948 Springtime is widely regarded as a masterpiece-some consider it the greatest of all Chinese films. Never having seen it, I can only imagine how Tian may have annotated the original in his remake. The second Springtime is predicated on a sense of ’50s filmmaking (not unlike the heightened Sirkness of Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven) that could hardly have existed in the original. Even as homage, Tian's movie seems to be among the finest expressions of the Chinese new wave.


Rosenbaum describes the Fei Mu Springtime as "widely considered the nation's greatest film by Mandarin speakers but tragically neglected by almost everyone else" and ends his capsule review of the new Springtime, "This erotically charged drama may not be quite as great as the original, but it's an amazing and beautiful work just the same" I no doubt need to add this to my 2004 "Wish I'd Seen" list. (Thanks to the contributors of FilmWurld for bringing it to my attention in the House of Flying Daggers thread).

Well, it's clear to me that Purple Butterfly isn't of this magnitude but it's notably different from the usual Chinese film fare in focusing on political conflicts in the 1930's -- which are handled in a somewhat conspiratorial and noirish way, with romance woven in. There are lots of long stares, Thirties dance songs, non-filter cigarettes pensively lighted with box matches, and events in Shanghai in the period of Japanese occupation leading up to the Sino-Japanese war involving political activist plots and counter-plots that are filmed to look rather like blurry, chaotic versions of Chicago gangster shootouts. There is a tragic star-crossed love story, and the climactic scene is rather neat. But the director, Lou Ye, isn't satisfied but has to add a disenchanted brutal sex/self doubt coda.

The director's previous film was Suzhou River, and this is just as pretty to look at -- pretty enough so you almost don't care that at first you don't know what's happening, except that couples are inarticulately in love and it's always raining. The Village Voice thumbnail review aptly commented, "part action flick, part love story, and part posh historical pageant...a fabulously morose piece of work."

Purple Butterfly (Zi hudie) calls a bit too much attention to itself to fully evoke its Thirties setting, but it manages to seem original most of the way despite occasional debts to Wong Kar Wai notable in the long pauses, languid love scenes, and incessant rain. Not a great success, but watchable as a mood piece.

Metacritic score of Purple Butterfly: 66.

Metacritic score of Springtime in a Small Town: 86.

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