Thursday, March 8, 2012
Zhang Ziyi and Li Bingbing in "Purple Butterfly" (2003)
It begins in Manchuria, 1928. Cynthia, (Zhang Ziyi) who is Chinese, and Itami (Nakamura Toru) who is there from Japan, are star-crossed lovers.
We are next introduced to Szeto (Liu Ye) and Yi Ling (Li Bing-bing).
Members of the anti-Japanese underground are there to meet an assassin but mistake Szeto for the assassin--as do the security police. Bullet fly--a lot of bullets, from pistols, submachine guns and even shotguns. Many people, including Tang Yi Ling, are killed while Szeto is only slightly wounded. He winds up in a car with some activists from the Purple Butterfly group who dump him out the door when they realize he isn't the assassin.
In one suspense filled but unnecessarily confusing moment, Itami tells Cynthia that he is returning to Tokyo in a few days and wants her to accompany him since, he says, the war is getting closer to Shanghai. What he doesn't say but which is obvious to everyone is that he since he is the second in command of Japanese intelligence in the area he knows exactly where the war will arrive. Itami says that Cynthia could work in a hospital (her current cover) and they could be together. Cynthia doesn't know if Itami has discovered she is a Chinese agent and is trying to trap her, if he knows she is a Chinese agent but thinks that getting her out of Shanghai and into Japan will change her or if he simply doesn't know who she really is. The audience is similarly in the dark regarding his real intentions. Both of them are ambiguous and conflicted characters but Lou Ye doesn't develop them enough for us to want to know what is happening with them.
Almost tacked on to the end is what looks to be newsreel footage that begins with scenes of a city being bombed from the air. Without "Shanghai 1937" superimposed it could be Tokyo, London or Berlin. The footage gets closer to the action as it goes on, with jerky black and white shots of civilian refugees fleeing as neighborhoods burn. Then comes the super "Nanjing 1937" with the scenes of real horror, the "unrepresentable evil" of genocide. Lou Ye seems to be saying that whatever the Japanese intelligence agents and Chinese resistance did early in the war meant nothing and that those depicted in the movie might as well not have bothered. Which actually occurred to me as I was watching Purple Butterfly but since wars are won and lost and history is made by many thousands of decisions and actions of many thousands of people, decisions and actions that Lou Ye was depicting throughout the movie I was surprised at the flat nihilistic turn at the end. I haven't seen any reviews that reflect on the way it ends and whether it was Lou Ye's artistic decision or was possibly done to make the film somehow more politically acceptable for the PRC.
at 6:46 PM