53 user 32 critic

M. Butterfly (1993)

In 1960s China, French diplomat Rene Gallimard falls in love with an opera singer, Song Liling - but Song is not at all who Gallimard thinks.


David Cronenberg


David Henry Hwang (play), David Henry Hwang (screenplay)
1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Jeremy Irons ... René Gallimard
John Lone ... Song Liling
Barbara Sukowa ... Jeanne Gallimard
Ian Richardson ... Ambassador Toulon
Annabel Leventon ... Frau Baden
Shizuko Hoshi Shizuko Hoshi ... Comrade Chin
Richard McMillan ... Embassy Colleague
Vernon Dobtcheff ... Agent Etancelin
David Hemblen ... Intelligence Officer #1
Damir Andrei Damir Andrei ... Intelligence Officer #2
Antony Parr Antony Parr ... Intelligence Officer #3
Margaret Ma Margaret Ma ... Song's Maid
Tristram Jellinek Tristram Jellinek ... Defense Attorney
Philip McGough Philip McGough ... Prosecution Attorney
David Neal ... Judge


During the Cultural Revolution in China in the mid-1960s, a French diplomat falls in love with a singer in the Beijing Opera. Interwoven with allusions to the Puccini opera "Madama Butterfly", a story of love and betrayal unfolds. Written by Michael C. Berch <mcb@postmodern.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sexuality and a brief bloody sequence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


David Cronenberg loved the play so much that when he heard a movie was being made about it, he volunteered immediately to direct it. See more »


The word accordion is misspelled "accordian" in the closing credits. See more »


Rene Gallimard: The Oriental woman: when she's good, she's very very very good. But when she's bad, she's Christian!
See more »


Featured in The Directors: The Films of David Cronenberg (1999) See more »

User Reviews

Cronenberg's Masterpiece
4 January 2016 | by YellowManReanimatedSee all my reviews

I've been searching for this film for a while. Having seen Videodrome, The Fly and Naked Lunch, I knew that Cronenberg was capable of making compelling, disturbing, horrific pieces which resonated in a dark, menacing way; staying with you via their visceral imagery and twisted ambiance. Having seen Dead Ringers, Spider and A Dangerous Method, I knew that Cronenberg also had another side to his work. A more restrained, mature, refined yet no less affecting style which, at its best, achieved a great level of tension without the visceral gore of his aforementioned works.

What I hadn't seen was M Butterfly. The almost unmentioned work which takes Cronenberg's more mature approach to filmmaking and fulfils his promise by giving him a jewel in what is an extremely impressive crown. I greatly enjoyed the movies I mentioned in the previous paragraph but even the best ones I felt were lacking something for me to be able to say they were a masterpiece. Perhaps they felt a little convoluted, gratuitously gory, or perhaps at times distant and even lifeless in some of his later works. But M Butterfly is none of these things; well some may say its plot is convoluted but, strangely enough, it's heavily based on a true story, or rather it's based on a novel which is based on a true story.

What M Butterfly has, which many of Cronenberg's other films lack, to varying degrees, is relatability and empathy. Pure, unadulterated empathy. It presents its characters not as good or bad; it's not interested in judging or condemning; it is a film which desires to take you deep into the world of an enchanted and tortured man: Rene Gallimard. It wishes to show you his most intimate passions and desires, his triumph, his awakening, his desperation and his suffering. It wishes to explore his self- realisation, his moments of greatest happiness and it wishes to show us his ultimate tragedy.

This is a film which echoes with symbolism. Its structure is tight, its performances, by the two leads, are heartbreakingly sublime. It is influenced by opera, by Hitchcockian psychological, twisted romance, think Vertigo. Its story opens and unfolds like a delicate rose which eventually must wilt and die. This is poetry, this is humanism. This is the most accomplished and meaningful work I've seen in a long time.

If you are even slightly tempted to investigate this then know that, despite its lack of recognition and a number of poor reviews, this film had the power to tantalise and haunt, in equal measure, at least one audience member. I was taken on a journey which I intimately understood only too profoundly. Perhaps it will mean something significant to you too.

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USA | Canada


English | Chinese | French | Italian

Release Date:

1 October 1993 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

M. Butterfly See more »

Filming Locations:

Balassagyarmat, Hungary See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$57,280, 3 October 1993

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Geffen Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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