Black Butterfly (1968)

Directed by
A decent if unremarkable late 60's wuxia
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-05-10

Black Butterfly robs from the rich and gives to the poor, stealing from wealthy households and giving their prized possessions to the local authorities to distribute to the victims of some unspecified disaster, leaving a black butterfly as a calling card. Who could the mysterious thief be?

It's not much of a mystery to us since Black Butterfly is quite obviously female and there's really only one candidate, but naturally this possibility is beyond the imagination of the other characters.

The film is a nice looking example of a late 1960's wuxia - the restaurant on a lake where much of the film is set is a visually striking location, and the sets and costumes are of the usual Shaw Brothers standard. The story is rather mediocre though, the plot unrolls with little real drama or tension. Even when Black Butterfly's identity is revealed everybody basically goes "Oh, it's you. LOL." and moves on to the next plot point.

Lo Wei's direction is typically pedestrian, taking elements from King Hu, Chang Cheh and Temple Of The Red Lotus without adding much of his own style or vision. It's functional, even competent direction but nothing more.

Despite being quite action packed the film doesn't seem to have a credit for action director, but we can probably assume it was Han Ying-Chieh since he was on set. Maybe Lo Wei would have us believe it was him though, and there might even be some truth in it - he is actually pretty good with a sword, as we see in the final act - perhaps he missed his true calling.

The action is a bit slow and stagey but does feature some imaginative moments and quite intricate choreography. It's not the best of its era, but it does show how Hong Kong filmmakers were starting to explore the possibilities of the form. Despite operating a strict no-kill policy through most of the film, Black Butterfly morphs into quite the killing machine in the final reel.

If you like wuxia, particularly in a 1960's Shaw Brothers form, then Black Butterfly is eminently watchable, but you could go your whole life without seeing it and it wouldn't be a tragedy.