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Ding Hui is a member of Purple Butterfly, a powerful resistance group in Japanese occupied Shanghai. An unexpected encounter reunites her with Itami, an ex-lover... and officer with a secret police unit tasked with dismantling Purple Butterfly. Written by
A Chinese Take On The Old-Fashioned War Time Spy Romance
"Purple Butterfly (Zi hudie)" is a Chinese take on "Charlotte Gray."
There are also references to "The Third Man" in how the characters' loyalties and knowledge of each other's motives switch, to "Shanghai Express" for the trains, locales and extensive close-ups of beautiful faces, and to "Casablanca" as if these characters had more dialogue they would probably say something about their personal lives not amounting to a hill of beans amidst war breaking out in the late 1930's.
Elaborate period production design and lush cinematography with very slow camera movement substitute for dialogue.
I know very little of Sino-Japanese relations at this period so I probably missed important portents as the film first follows what I thought were two sets of star-crossed lovers in Manchuria and then Shanghai, whose lives only gradually obviously intersect.
I consequently found some plot points confusing, particularly as I wasn't sure if the characters were spectacularly bad shots at point blank range or if we were seeing flashbacks to the point that I wondered if the projectionist had mixed up reels.
I also wasn't sure if I was supposed to have a positive reaction to Tôru Nakamura's character, as the movie is so virulently anti-Japanese, but I found him a very charismatic actor who had terrific chemistry with the very expressive Ziyi Zhang despite the formalized set pieces of their interactions and even though I wasn't really sure about her personal feelings within her Mata Hari activities.
It was completely gratuitous to close the movie with newsreel footage of Japanese atrocities in various Chinese cities during the war. Yes, we know this war was hell on civilians but hey I'm watching for the romances.
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