Saturday, October 17, 2015



Hey, welcome back! Our first movie of 1968 was produced by Runme Shaw and directed and co-written (with Yip Yat-Fong) by Lo Wei who also stars in the movie as the head baddie. THE BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968) is a re-make of the very popular Cantonese movie THE BLACK ROSE (1965) where, in present day Hong Kong (circa 1965) the police are on the look out for a "Robin Hood type cat burglar" who leaves behind a black rose whenever they engage in a burglary or leave money to a destitute citizen. The Black Rose is then falsely accused of stealing a precious gem from a prominent citizen and the insurance claims adjuster investigating the case helps create the rest of the plot. Now, let's look at Lo Wei's adaptation.

During the Ming Dynasty, near the village of Kiang Shan County lies Five Devil Rock Fortress. They have experienced a rash of burglaries as of late by the one known as The Black Butterfly because of the small black butterfly emblem they leave behind at the scene of the burglary. The Five Devils are enraged about this but do not want to lose face for being burglarized. They decide to go to the nearby villages and see if they can discover the identity of The Black Butterfly and get their revenge. Meanwhile in Kiang Shan County, The Court of Censors (their version of a justice department) has a strange case of a drunken beggar giving large quantities of rice to the poor as opposed to the Court's bowl of congee. The drunken beggar agrees to go to court but they have to let him go with no evidence of any crimes having been committed. 

Third Devil: Jade Nan and Fifth Devil: Nan Jie traveling together arrive at Kiang Shan County where they stop an inn to rest. Jade Nan immediately swoons for a young girl he spots outside his window. She is Kwan Bao Zhu, the daughter of retired kung fu expert Gold Sword Kwan Yee who owns and runs the village restaurant and teaches kung fu on the side. The devils learn Master Kwan fell ill after a confrontation with The Black Butterfly go pay him a visit and start trouble but are outmatched. They decide on an indirect approach. They steal The Court of Censors official seal and demand payment for their losses inflicted on them by The Black Butterfly and Master Kwan's daughter hand in marriage to Jade Nan in exchange for them returning the seal. Master Kwan, of course, refuses their offer and vows to personally go to Five Devil Rock and retrieve the seal himself. 

Having lost the great Tien Feng earlier this year makes me observe his presence in the Shaw Brothers movies in a more meaningful way. I realized just how much they use him for "story-telling short hand" whether he is a villain or hero when they need to impart to the audience a sense of nobility. His skill is his ability to let the star be the star and not steal the scene or the movie from the intended actor. A consummate professional, he will be missed. In THE BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968) he plays the retired swordsman Gold Sword Kwan Lee.  Lisa Chiao Chiao plays his daughter Kwan Bao Zhu who he has never taught martial arts. Yuen Hua is Liu Xi Lang, Master Kwan's top student and an officer of The Court of Censors.

HONORABLE MENTION: Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng round out the good guys and Lo Wei, Ma Ying, Chen Hung-Lieh, Chang Yu-Chin and Han Ying-Chieh play the Five Devils and Sammo Kam-Bo Hung

FIGHT TIME: Oh, whoa is me, we are still at a time where the fight choreographer may not be credited for any given movie and such is this movie THE BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968). This is clearly a shame because this movie is so well choreographed both in individual fights and en mass conflicts. It was very hard to catch someone "dialing it in" or actions lacking in emotional commitment. I counted five (5) full fight scenes including the grand finale and often the numbers of opponents faced were simply incredible which actually made the fight scenes more fun to watch! More than once I found myself saying "get the f**k outta here!" but with more glee than disbelief. All the fights were technically well executed and the fights with multiple opponents were exceptionally well done! Bravo, but to who?

Trying not to spoil a movie that starts off giving away the big reveal isn't easy. I don't think I fooled anyone (especially if you read my weekly page) but if you are not at all familiar with this movie THE BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968) or the movie it is remade from THE BLACK ROSE (1965) then you will just have one more thing to like about this movie. I have learned that it is very possible to enjoy these movies of the Shaw Brothers yesteryears when you keep an open mind and have an appreciation for the craft of film making and the skill it takes to engage in the martial arts. I highly recommend this film because I believe you will have as much fun watching it as I did. See you next time!

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