Dir: Yan Yan Mak, HongKong. 2004. 124mins
A well-crafted butpainfully earnest lesbian coming-of-age drama, Hu Die attempts inunconvincing fashion to combine the personal and the political. Using flashbackand newsreel footage, it makes constant reference to the protests leading up tothe massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when students stood up against themight of the Chinese army. These events have a huge influence on life of theteenage heroine Flavia (played as an adolescent by Isabel Chan) back in HongKong.
Yan Yan Mak already has aninternational reputation. Her debut feature Brother won a FIPRESCI Prizeand was shown widely. Butterflyshould also travel, but may be too fragile to prosper outside the festivalcircuit. The sex scenes here are shot in restrained, non-graphic fashion. Mak'sinterest is in character and psychology, not in making an exploitation movie.As she has noted, 'in Hong Kong cinema, homosexuality is still beingtreated as a gimmick.' Her main achievement is to tackle such her matterin mature and sensitive fashion.
As the action begins, Flavia(played as an adult by Josie Ho) is a thirtysomething married teacher. She hassuppressed the memory of her adolescent lesbian fling with Jin and is stuck ina stifling marriage. A chance encounter in a supermarket with the playful andseductive singer Yip (Tian Yuan) reawakens dormant feelings and she begins tothink back on her teenage affair with Jin (played as an adolescent by JomanChiang.)
Jin is a free spirit whoseroom is decked with posters of Patti Smith, Janis Joplin and Antonioni's Blow-Up.She is heavily involved in politics. For reasons the movie never makes quiteclear, she reacts to the tragedy of Tiananmen Square by going off and becominga Buddhist nun in Macau.
Flavia is a conformist. Herlife as a teacher follows a deadeningly familiar routine. 'I've been inschool for 30 years,' she laments. If she leaves her cosy bourgeoisbackground, she knows she may drive a wedge between herself and her child, towhom she is devoted. But to blossom forth (hence the title Butterfly) she needsto be honest about her sexuality.
Her dilemma iscounterpointed with those of her family and students. Her parents are atloggerheads. Two girls in her class who have fallen in love with each otherwant to run away together. She talks them into staying despite her own memoriesof her parents' disapproval about her teenage affair with Jin.
As a closely focusedcharacter study, Butterfly works fine. As a domestic drama, it verges onthe leaden. There are too many solemn and portentous scenes with Flavia and herhusband mulling the break-up of their marriage or Flavia going off to visit herformer girlfriend in Macau.
Like her mentor Wong KarWai, Mak (an assistant-director on In The Mood For Love) has an eye fora lyrical shot. Early on, the cutting is lithe and dynamic. On severaloccasions, we see the heroine's face reflected in spoons or in windows a sheagonises about her life and sexuality. There is little wrong with theperformances either. The problem is the ponderous symbolism and improbablenarrative.
Whereas Wong Kar Wai in 2046is bold enough to dispense with linear narrative and realist conventions, thereis always a sense here that Yan Yan Mak - like her torn heroine Flavia - is intwo minds. In its more impressionistic and poetic moments, Butterfly takes wing but it is all too frequently dragged back toground again by stock characters and situations which seem to have been drawnfrom some dreary soap opera.
Prod co: Lotus Film
Intl sales: Filmko FilmsDidstribution
Exec prod: Andrew Yu
Prod: Yan Yan Mak
Scr: Yan Yan Mak, from anoriginal story, The Mark Of The Butterfly, by Chen Xue
Cine: Charlie Lam
Ed: Eric Lau, Stanley Tam
Prod des: Second Chan
Main cast: Josie Ho, Tian Yuan,Eric Kot, Isabel Chan, Joman Chiang, Stephanie Chie