Butterfly & Sword (San lau sing woo dip gim) (1993)

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Released 24-May-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1993
Running Time 86:51 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Michael Mak
Icon Entertainment Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Jimmy Lin
Michelle Yeoh
Joey Wang
Donnie Yen
Chung Hua Tou
Elvis Tsui
Chuan Chen Yeh
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $19.95 Music Chris Babida
Chin Yung Shing

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Butterfly and Sword (San lau sing woo dip gim) is a Taiwanese production from 1993. Based on the novel of the same name by Ku Long it is another film that delves into the Martial Arts world of rival clans, intrigue and treachery. Ko (Michelle Yeoh), Sing (Tony Leung) and Yip Cheung (Donnie Yen) were childhood friends who are now members of the Happy Forest clan. They are tasked with finding a secret letter in the possession of Suen Yuk Pa (Elvis Tsui), head of the Elite Villa clan, and exposing a conspiracy against the Emperor. Personal feelings intrude into their quest: Yip is secretly in love with Ko but she loves Sing, who in turn is enamoured with his fiancé Butterfly (Joey Wang). Sing infiltrates the Elite Villas, only to discover that another childhood friend, Ho Ching (Chuan Chen Yeh), has already infiltrated the clan. But Ho and Sing are not the only ones who are not what they seem, and as the conflict between the rival clans heads towards into its bloody climax, many of the participants still have surprises in store in both love and loyalty.

     For fans of Chinese martial arts, any film that stars Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung and Donnie Yen together, even in their early days, has got to be worth a look so Butterfly and Sword is not without interest. Indeed, all the principals are very good and watchable, with Michelle Yeoh outstanding. In common with many of the martial arts films of the 1980 and 1990, the plot takes a while to get started and there are various romantic subplots, not to mention flashbacks, to confuse proceedings and slow the action. As well, in the early action sequences it is difficult to understand who is doing what to whom, and why. A couple of issues with the presentation of this DVD don’t help. First, it is not 16x9 enhanced, and in most of the night scenes the shadow detail is so murky it is hard to distinguish who is doing what. Second, the burnt in English subtitles are in a smallish white font that often flash by so quickly they are impossible to read in full. Neither of these issues aid comprehension.

     But of course in a martial arts film it is the fight scenes that are important, and certainly in Butterfly and Sword they are energetic and inventive, although to my mind the jerky hand held cameras, quick intercutting, the excessive wire work and the abovementioned lack of shadow detail mean that the wonderful fighting skills of Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen especially are not fully displayed. Just occasionally it would have been nice to have a more static, wider framed shot to show off their skills.

     Butterfly and Sword is an interesting film with a convoluted plot, typical of the genre. It boasts charismatic leads, impressive sets and has enough energetic action sequences to hold the interest, especially if you enjoy copious amounts of wire work. It is good to see the release of some of these more obscure martial arts films on DVDs in Australia. The presentation on the DVD, however, leaves a lot to be desired.

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Transfer Quality


     Butterfly and Sword is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio was 1.85:1.

     This is a very disappointing print. It is hazy and lacks detail in many sequences. The credits are fuzzy, colours are often flat, skin tones sometimes take on a reddish tinge. Blacks are acceptable, just, but the shadow detail is very poor indeed and it is sometimes impossible to see what is happening. There are also continuous artefacts, both negative and positive. Most are small, but some are not, and a couple of times (6:36, 41:04) a prominent scratch occurs. There is also frequent grain.

     The English subtitles are burnt in. They are in a smallish white font and contain a number of grammatical errors and misspellings (i.e., hobby instead of hubby). They also flash past so quickly that they sometimes cannot be read all the way through.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The only audio option for Butterfly and Sword is a Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) at 224 Kbps. Although releases in other regions have various 5.1 audio tracks on offer, reviews indicate they are poor. The original theatrical release featured mono audio, and that is what we have here. The track is adequate with the clangs of swords and action “whooshes” fine. Dialogue is clear, but of course there is no surround or subwoofer use. There is hiss, especially at the beginning, but it is not continuous.

     Lip synchronisation varies from acceptable to very poor. As was usual in Chinese films of this period, dialogue was not recorded on set and the participants spoke whatever they were most comfortable with; Cantonese, Mandarin or even English, and all were redubbed later. It shows.

     The score is by Chris Babida and Chin Yung Shing. It often sounded like lift muzak and did little to help the moods of the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There have been three Region 0 releases of the film: US, Hong Kong and Taiwanese. The US version has an audio commentary by Tai Seng boss Frank Djeng and Hong Kong film expert/author Ric Meyers. It is in 1.85:1 NTSC, non 16x9, and includes a Cantonese dts, as well as Mandarin and English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks. It has the shorter ending (see the censorship section) but the original ending is included as an extra. Running time is 86:44 NTSC. The Taiwanese release has the original ending (running time 87:25 NTSC) but is in a cropped aspect ratio of 1.45:1, non 16x9 and has burnt in English and Mandarin subtitles (at the same time). The Hong Kong version has the shorter ending and is framed at 1.70:1 NTSC, non 16x9. Our Region 2 / 4 version is the cut version which lacks the original ending. With the ending as an extra, the US version is the most complete.


     Butterfly and Sword is an interesting film with a convoluted plot, typical of the genre. It boasts charismatic leads, impressive sets and has enough energetic action sequences to hold the interest, especially if you enjoy copious amounts of wire work.

     The presentation on the DVD, however, leaves a lot to be desired with poor video and acceptable audio. There are absolutely no extras and we get the truncated ending as well.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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