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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Retro Review: M. Butterfly (1992)

M. Butterfly
Cast: Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson
Genre: Romantic Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $1.4 million

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

'The M in M Butterfly Should Stand For Mundane'

Misguided and lacklustre doomed love affair, a man cheats on his wife by falling for a Chinese opera singer, who turns out is not even a woman and add to that is a spy, but for the shocking last 15 mins, M.Butterfly is blurred hardcore shocker David Cronenberg's tamest 2-hour effort.

An onscreen adaptation of the hit Broadway play, a French intelligence official, Rene Gallimard falls in love with a mysterious opera singer, Song Liling. Their secret affair lasts for 18 years, who throughout the duration of that period of time Gallimard had no inkling that his lover is indeed a male & who was later convicted of espionage. 

I could easily tell that Lone as his character was a man by the masculinity of his voice, and he looked way too stocky that no amount of make-up could cover it up. He could never pass himself off as being truly effeminate. I think Cronenberg should have made more of an effort casting an actual androgynous and or gay actor or person who looks more effeminate.

The main issue of M. Butterfly is one of identity and in the Peking opera house, one of the main rules is that many of the female characters are played by men.

None of the complicated themes that are highlighted and mentioned in the book feature whatsoever in this film and with that, it plays up as a straight up drama with little of the tension that doesn't prop up until the very last 20 mins. Rene's wife dissapears out of the equation half way through the film, never to be seen or heard of again and no explanation is given for this. It all feels utterly subdued, uncompelling and dreary and so uninspired, which given the plot and how interesting it sounds, its execution and delivery should have been far more potent and hard-hitting. Yet it is not. 

Jeremy Irons's character is an idiot who just cannot see through the facade and deception and that he is being played around with. The romance between his character, Rene and John Lone's Song is unengaging, not believable enough & there is no sense of unison or spark and it was underplayed and it just wasn't shocking enough. Shock king Cronenberg is not one to shy away from producing shocks and heightened fear in his movies, but here with M. Butterfly, his approach is far too lightweight and almost empty and even with the plot, it should have been more taxing on the audience and he should have done more with it and added more intensity and excitement. 

Final Verdict:

Not very engaging and despite the good performances by Jeremy Irons and John Lone, M Butterfly turned out to be a dull and flat affair that really should have taken more chances and went even more extreme in its ideas. Tame, boring and but for the last 30 mins, there is no tension and it all felt like a waste of what is a potentially good idea ripe for execution. It's a shame, therefore, that that execution was sorely lacking and with no characters, I could truly root for, M. Butterfly is not just a disappointment but as a movie, it is complete a misfire on many accounts. 

Perhaps that was ideally suited for the stage and not given the cinematic treatment. Either way, I just wasn't convinced by how good this was or should have been. 

Because it is not.


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