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Palm Pictures presents

Purple Butterfly (2003)

"That's a nice suit. Is it off the rack?"- Ding Hui (Zhang Ziyi)

Stars: Zhang Ziyi, Liu Ye
Other Stars: Feng Yuanzhen, Toru Nakamura, Li Bing Bing
Director: Lou Ye

MPAA Rating: R for (strong violence, some sexuality)
Run Time: 02h:07m:56s
Release Date: 2005-02-15
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-BA- D+


DVD Review

Young actress Zhang Ziyi has taken the movie world by storm over the last few years. When she came on the international scene with her performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, audiences marveled at her sheer beauty. After staying off the radar for a few years, Ziyi came back with a vengeance in 2004, appearing in a trio of unforgettable films: Hero (which was finally released in the US in 2004), House of Flying Daggers, and 2046, which has yet to be released theatrically in the US, but made the festival rounds.

Purple Butterfly was actually released in China in 2003, but is finally making it's way to a domestic DVD release. Starring Ziyi, this unique film is captivating from its opening reel. Incredible imagery (the purple hue is a nice touch) and lush visuals abound, immediately drawing us into this twisting tale of espionage, treachery, and politics.

Taking place in 1930s China, Purple Butterfly centers on Cynthia, a young Chinese woman who has just seen her boyfriend, Itami, leave for the military. This distraught woman moves closer to her family, and soon loses her political activist brother, who is killed by a right-wing rebel. With the losses piling up, Cynthia changes her name to Ding Hui and joins a covert operation code-named Purple Butterfly.

This can be a tough film to get through for many people, namely due to the near lack of dialogue through about 75% of the film. There were maybe four lines of dialogue during the first half-hour of the film, so, not only will people who are adverse to subtitled films have to deal with that aspect of this flick, but they also could shy away from the near silence of much of it. Still, this silence soon gives way to some intense action pieces, which do an excellent job in telling this twisty story all by themselves.

The performances here are great, but this is definitely Zhang Ziyi's film. The way she shifts from the quiet, forlorn Cynthia, to the cool, calculating gun-toting (and not afraid to use it) Ding Hui is incredible. This film only solidifies Ziyi's climb up the actress totem pole, not only in China, but in Hollywood as well. Her work over the last two years has been simply unforgettable, culminating in her best work yet, in the aforementioned 2046. While that flick might still be hard to track down and see, for a glimpse of the caliber of acting on display there, check out Purple Butterfly immediately.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a gorgeous film, from beginning to end, but the transfer is not perfect. The intentional purple hue to most of the film comes across just fine, with other vibrant colors supporting the purple quite well. Images are crisp and detailed as well, but the big drawback to the presentation is the overabundance of grain during many darkly lit sequences. Normally this is excusable and infrequent, but it becomes a major distraction at times here.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Mandarinyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks are very good, providing just the right amount of depth for this half atmospheric, half action packed film. The surrounds are used quite a bit for both tracks, but more so for the 5.1. This increased surround activity along with tighter, more aggressive bass, give the 5.1 mix a slight edge over the 2.0. Dialogue is consistently clear on both tracks as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Last Life in the Universe, Bright Future, Reconstruction
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: For such a recent, great film, it's a shame that there aren't more extras on board, but it's always nice to see trailers, and we do get the original theatrical preview for Purple Butterfly, as well as some other potentially great films also available from Palm Pictures.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

While the martial arts-oriented Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers put Zhang Ziyi on the map, Purple Butterfly just might put her over the top as far as overall acting ability goes. This tight thriller shouldn't be missed, with a unique look that would make most American directors green (or purple) with envy.

Chuck Aliaga 2005-05-06