18 May 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
BLACK BUTTERFLY - Lackluster Robin Hood-style swordplay film
THE BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968) is a swordplay adventure from Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio about a female fighter with a secret identity as the masked "Black Butterfly," who steals into wealthy homes and bandit lairs to make off with gold, jewels and other treasures, only to turn around and give them to the poor. In reality, she is Bao Zhu (Chiao Chiao), the daughter of a retired swordsman, Kwan Yee (Tien Feng), who has refused to give her the kung fu lessons he's been giving to the local boys, including his chief student, Xi Lang (Yueh Hua). As a result, Bao Zhu has secretly turned for instruction to a local drunkard known as Drunken Beggar (Yang Chi-ching), who is actually a kung fu expert believed to have died ten years earlier. Because she's supposedly never learned kung fu she's never considered a suspect in the Black Butterfly robberies. Conflict kicks in when a bandit gang whose gold had been robbed by Black Butterfly comes to town looking for her. Eventually, Kwan Yee and his students, joined by Black Butterfly and Drunken Beggar, have to confront the bandit gang at the gang's fortress, Five Devils Rock, in a big fight finale.
Given these plot elements and given the strong cast, director, and relatively large Shaw Bros. budget, this should have been a much better film. Director Lo Wei made quite a number of enjoyable Shaw Bros. adventures (e.g. DEATH VALLEY, BROTHERS FIVE, THE SHADOW WHIP) and he's got some of the best actors at the studio on hand, including Chiao Chiao, Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Chen Hung Lieh, Ku Feng and Fan Mei-sheng. But none of it ever comes together in the right way. Too much of the film is spent on Black Butterfly robbing local rich men and having to fight her own father and his student, Xi Lang. There's no good reason for this and it puts off the confrontation with the bandit gang, which comes too late in the film to generate much suspense. And when the good guys finally amass for the big fight at Five Devils Rock, they are too few in number and too short on skills to pose a believable challenge to the army of bandits, yet that doesn't stop the (uncredited) fight choreographer from putting forth some of the most implausible fight action I've yet seen in a Shaw Bros. film.
For the record, the Black Butterfly is actually garbed entirely in purple.