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THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS

Hong Kong / Taiwan, 1979 (MIFF 1980, Programme 28)

Director: Tsui Hark

Hong Kong's film industry continues to throw up surprises and new talents, and few in recent years have been as surprising and talented as Tsui Hark whose first feature The Butterfly Murders has been described as one of the most spectacular directorial debuts of the year.

The new epoch, at the height of the Martial Era in China, saw incessant struggles between 72 newly emerged feudal factions, known as the 72 Trails of Wind. A murder in a printing works and the bizarre deaths of two grave-robbers are among the curious incidents that lead several people to converge on Shum Castle. One of the scholar, Fong Hung-Yip; another is Tien Fung, warlike leader of the Tien Clan, who finds himself followed by the adventuress Green Shadow. They find Shum Ching and his wife and maid living only in the cellars of the castle under intermittent siege from a species of poisonous butterfly ... Fong begins to investigate what turns out to be a double or triple mystery.

Tony Rayns writes in the London Film Festival programme: "While the script is running rings around its elements of thriller, horror-fantasy, action and even science-fiction, though, Tsui and his cinematographer are pulling off consistently dazzling visual coups, abetted by equally inventive costume and set design. One gropes for Western points of reference (The Birds but with butterflies? the Roger Corman-Floyd Crosby Poe films?) but in the end there's no getting round it: the film is a true original."

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