Starring Lau Siu-Ming, Wong Shu-Tong, Michelle Yim, Chan Chi Chi and Eddy Ko, directed by Tsui Hark for Seasonal Film Corporation.
Tien Fung, leader of the Ten Flags clan, investigates the mystery of killer butterfly attacks in the deserted Shum Castle, accompanied by some of his troops and lone woman warrior Green Shadow. Entering the catacombs beneath the castle, they encounter esteemed scholar Fong (Siu-Ming), Master Shum, his wife and a mute maid named Chee. The butterflies continue to kill, hidden rooms are discovered and renowned fighters known as the Thunders enter the story.
Tsui Hark’s first film is an assured, thoroughly engrossing Hong Kong new wave wuxia murder mystery with creature feature elements. The empty Shum Castle itself, often shown from the outside, looming above the long grasses, adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the film, as does the effective use of Jerry Goldsmith’s PLANET OF THE APES score. Wong Shu-Tong is steely, stoic and thoughtful as Tien Fung and Michelle Yim is playful and acrobatic as Green Shadow.
The film offers a realistic reason for characters being able to fly about, by showing them using various line-firing gizmos, but there are still fantastical components to the story, like a fire crow bird that explodes on contact with people and the notion that butterflies can actually kill a person, though these lethal Lepidoptera assaults are actually explained away as being the result of the use of ‘butterfly-controlling medicine’.
The introduction of a helmeted armoured man becomes the focus of the latter stages of the movie, with the killer butterflies taking a back seat, as fights involving dart-ejecting weapons and explosive projectiles ultimately lead to a nihilistic finale.
The secret plans and rivalries eventually revealed to be the reasons behind the events may fail to be particularly compelling, but THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS remains a very moody, intriguing, enjoyable viewing experience.