Purple Butterfly | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Purple Butterfly


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Dark and challenging, this 2003 suspense film from Chinese director Lou Ye (Suzhou River) unfolds against the Sino-Japanese conflict of the 1920s and '30s. The story of romance and espionage recalls Hitchcock's wartime thrillers; the violent, chaotic set pieces, with their kinetic handheld camera and rapid cutting, evoke contemporary news coverage of terrorist crises. Zhang Ziyi (House of Flying Daggers) stars as a young woman in Manchuria whose romance with a visiting Japanese student (Toru Nakamura) is interrupted when he returns home and her brother, a political journalist, is killed by a Japanese assassin. Radicalized, she joins an anti-Japanese resistance group, and years later, when her old flame arrives in Shanghai as an intelligence agent for the Japanese government, she's ordered to get close to him again. A subplot in which another young couple is swept into the violence only adds to the puzzle box of deadly vendettas, until Ye concludes with a daring flashback that seals the heroine's fate. In Mandarin, Japanese, and Vietnamese with subtitles. 127 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.

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