A popular Chinese romantic legend is adapted for the screen with mixed results, not to mention an international title that’s ill fitting at best. The high definition presentation is decent, though the bare bones quality of the release makes it one best rented first.
Studio: Well Go USA
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 05/07/2013
First of all, calling this Chinese movie “The Assassin’s Blade” makes as much sense as calling Romeo and Juliet “The Sword of the Executioner.” While both stories have their share of edged weapons and violent deaths, they’re far from the point. The film’s original title is – no joke – The Butterfly Lovers, and it’s based on the tragic legend considered China’s equivalent of Shakespeare’s star-crossed romance story. Known by ethnic Chinese the world over, it of course has less significance to many viewers in the States, but did the film’s “international” title and cover art have to veer so far afield, to the point the unsuspecting will think it’s a bait and switch?
The Production Rating: 3/5
Certainly, there’s some martial arts swordplay to be had in Director Jingle Ma’s wuxia-infused adaptation of the story, but the ill-fated romance between the novice Yanzhi (Charlene Choi) and her kung fu school mentor Liang (Wu Chun) drives the narrative. In fact, the film could stand to have more genuine development of their relationship, which tends to get overshadowed by the context in which the two become acquainted. While Yanzhi’s posing as a boy in order to attend the kung fu school offers some amusement, so much of the situation is played for whimsy that the two being in a "I can't live without you" romance never really sells. By the time they are separated by Yanzhi’s arranged marriage to a longtime family friend (Hu Ge), it feels decidedly by-the-numbers, the string of unfortunate events leading to the tearjerker ending sure to be familiar for both Eastern and Western cultures.
Though it’s unfortunate a popular legend like the Butterfly Lovers has received such a mixed handling of the material, stories like it tend to inspire multiple treatments. Tsui Hark’s 1994 film The Lovers and the Shaw Brothers' 1963 musical The Love Eterne both sound like more compelling adaptations. Finding them in the States will be a challenge (though the latter appears to be on YouTube, albeit sans English subtitles), but will no doubt yield a more satisfying experience for those intrigued by the enduring story.
In keeping with the romantic fantasy that lies at the heart of the Butterfly Lovers legend, the film has a dreamy, filtered look that gives the picture a pleasant, ethereal beauty. The unfortunate byproduct is that contrast is compromised, giving things a noticeably flat appearance with blacks that never go very deep and color that is heavily muted. Detail and sharpness manage to hold their ground though, sparing the film from looking too heavily wrapped in layers of gauze.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
Dialogue in the Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp and clear. Surround channel activity is pretty limited, as is LFE. A few select action sequences engage the full array, but the inconsistency tends to call attention to the effects rather than seamlessly blending them into the viewing experience.
Audio Rating: 3/5
Not surprisingly, the bonus material is limited to just a handful of previews.
Special Features Rating: 0.5/1
Trailer (1:07, SD)
Previews: The Guillotines (1:52, HD), Tai Chi Hero (1:48, HD), and The Four (1:38, HD).
Despite a poorly chosen international title and a mediocre handling of the original story, Well Go USA delivers a decent high definition presentation for a film inspired by a popular Chinese romantic legend. The limited bonus material makes for an essentially barebones release, however, making it hard to recommend as more than a rental for those who remain inspired by the tale.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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