Purple Butterfly Lou Ye

This ambitious historical drama from the director of Suzhou River is the greatest film you'll ever wish were over. Its star-crossed lovers are the Japanese Itami (Toru Nakamura) and Chinese Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi) at the highly inopportune moment of Japan's colonial intrusion into Manchuria — Itami is carted off to the army as Cynthia enters the resistance after her leftist brother is murdered by a Japanese extremist. Years later their paths cross again as intelligence or resistance operatives for their respective countries; they're weary of manipulations and sacrifices and just want to lose themselves in each others' etc., etc. Plus, there's a war brewing and does that ever suck. There's no doubting director Lou Ye's mad skillz, and to be sure his film has some of the best cinematography, most creative editing and vibrant design of any film in its class. But it's basically a melodrama wishing above its station and it comes dangerously close to trivialising the political issues it raises. Lou seems to think that the dehumanising machinations of resistance somehow negate its importance. While it's easy to hate the "the end justifies the means" nature of espionage, the little matter of repelling Japanese fascism sure seems like a means-justifying end to me. The shallowness of the narrative requires a lot of visual tap-dancing to cover it and the director certainly rises to the occasion. Lou manages to wring considerable dread and anguish out of people staring intently ahead through slow dollies-in, fractured editing and velvet-shadow cinematography. He almost pulls it off, but the material just can't support the weight and the film collapses under a ponderous oppression that's more irritating than agonising. Seville has billed this as an "action thriller," but anyone looking for action thrills is in for a crushing disappointment. There are no extras, except for the trailer. (Seville)