The Butterfly Murders

09/28/2022 11:16

Film: The Butterfly Murders (Dip bin)

Year: 1979

Director: Hark Tsui

Writers: Chi-Min Lam and Fan Lin

Starring: Siu-Ming Lau, Michelle Yim and Shu-Tong Wong



This is a movie that I never heard of until prepping for the Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Challenge Series. One of the other hosts recommended it. Now I recognized the director of Hark Tsui. I’ve seen a remake of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires that he did which was named Vampire Hunters. The only time that I saw that, I wasn’t fully prepared for what I got. That is one I need to revisit, having broadened my taste more.

Synopsis: a journalist trying to solve a mystery in ‘Martial World’ enlists the aid of a master fighter and a woman named Green Shadow (Michelle Yim). They go to a mysterious castle where they come across poisonous butterflies and a black-leather-clad killer.

Now I’m not going to name all the characters as they went fast and I watched this in its native language with subtitles. What I did catch is that there have been major wars within a 36-year period. Many died and they’re now in a quiet period.  We see a man walking through a desert before shifting over to a pond. We follow a man from it who wants to get the memoirs of Fong published. He was supposed to be great at the martial arts. After the wars, there is less that known. The publisher is interested, but he points out this is a fake. He is then murdered. The man accused flees.

We then shift over to Fang Hongye (Siu-Ming Lau). He meets with No.10 of the Red Flags (Kuang-Li Hsia). This group fights under the banners of Tian Feng (Shu-Ton Wong). They’re summoned as something has happened at Shen Castle. They are to get to the bottom of it. The rumor was that poisonous butterflies came and killed everyone. They’re joined by Green Shadow.

Arriving at the castle, the spy they sent is found dead. There are tiny bites all over him. As they search the castle, they discover a servant who appears to be deaf and mute. She leads them to a secret tunnel where the residents are hiding. They’re led by Shen Qing (Kuo-Chu Chang). Tian and his group try to solve the mystery of these killer butterflies. The truth of the matter will expose secrets that are hidden within the labyrinth that is under the castle.

That should recap the story and introduce some of the characters that we are working with. Where I want to start is that we have an odd blend of a martial arts movie with eco-horror. This has a fantasy feel with the minimal cast that we get. I like this setting up that this could be taking place in our world, but it also doesn’t pin-point an exact location. The fantasy elements also come from the fight sequences we get in the movie. There aren’t a lot of them and most of that is near the end of the movie. I’ll be honest, I used to hate movies like this. People flying around while fighting and what not. I’ve come to appreciate it and visually it makes things more interesting.

There is an interesting mystery here. Tian and his crew are called in to get to the bottom of what happened at this castle. There are talks of a curse, which piques my interest. The aftermath of when they attack someone looked good. Butterflies aren’t something that is scary and I’ll be honest, this is the first movie I’ve seen utilize that. I like the idea though of a poisonous version at the crux here. We learn more about why they’re attacking and it fits with what I know about movies from the area. They love to have characters in tune with nature and that works for me. I’m a fan of eco-horror so this fits in that.

Something else that I found interesting while on the Internet Movie Database page. They have giallo and Hong Kong giallo listed as keywords. I can see that. At the most basic concepts, we have a murder mystery here. There isn’t a black glove killer, but we do get one that is in a black leather outfit. When this character shows up and a fight sequence happened, it made me think of the martial arts films I love growing up. This fighter seems unstoppable and no one can harm him. This moves into more mythology about an elite group of four called ‘The Thunders’. They were secret and the best at what they did. Their lore comes into play for the end of the movie as well.

That should be enough for fleshing out the story elements. I’ll take this over to the filmmaking aspects then. The first will be the acting. I thought that we had some distinct characters that were interesting. It is hard to sync them up by their names via the IMDb page, but while watching this I knew who everyone was. I did enjoy that and I’d say across the board they were good. This movie is shot well. It doesn’t use a lot of the over-the-top fight scenes with wire work, but we do get some of that. The effects we do get are solid enough. What impressed me most out of this though was the soundtrack. Looking back, I could see gialli elements there. It stood out in a way that I enjoyed.

In conclusion, this is a wild movie and one that I’m glad I can say I’ve seen. We aren’t getting the most complex story, but the elements we get work. I can even see how some could consider this a Hong Kong giallo. We have a killer in black leather who is picking off different people in this castle. There is a mystery to solve as to their identity. I think this is well made as well. The acting is solid. The effects we get are good, including the fight sequences. Soundtrack though impressed me the most there. I would say that after this first viewing, I’d say this an above average movie. I will come back to this one though with how much fun I had.


My Rating: 7 out of 10