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Butterfly

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Butterfly (2004)

124 min - Drama, LGBTQ - 2 December 2004
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Flavia, a Honk Kong thirty-year-old teacher, is married with a son. She has to choose between her family and new love. The choice is traumatic for her, since it brings back a part of herself which belongs to an apparently buried past. As a matter of fact, Flavia falls in love with a young woman she casually meets in a supermarket. She totally surrenders to her and experiences the same intensity of a previous lesbian love she had when she was an adolescent , during the crucial ‘80s, when Hong Kong was going through the Chinese political riots. Meanwhile,, another couple of young women, in today’s Honk Kong, fights against the persistent prejudices which make their relationship difficult.

Director:  Mak Yan-Yan
Writers:  Mak Yan-Yan

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Storyline

Flavia, a Honk Kong thirty-year-old teacher, is married with a son. She has to choose between her family and new love. The choice is traumatic for her, since it brings back a part of herself which belongs to an apparently buried past. As a matter of fact, Flavia falls in love with a young woman she casually meets in a supermarket. She totally surrenders to her and experiences the same intensity of a previous lesbian love she had when she was an adolescent , during the crucial ‘80s, when Hong Kong was going through the Chinese political riots. Meanwhile,, another couple of young women, in today’s Honk Kong, fights against the persistent prejudices which make their relationship difficult.


Collections: Mak Yan-Yan

Genres: Drama, LGBTQ

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Official Website: 
Country:   Hong Kong
Release Date:  2 December 2004

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Technical Specs

Runtime:  2 h 04 min

Flavia, a Honk Kong thirty-year-old teacher, is married with a son.

DIRECTOR’S NOTE

Butterfly is about a married schoolteacher who needs to choose between her family and love affair. On the one hand, there is her husband and her child, but there is another woman on the other. A few sub-plots emerge from her life: her lesbian lover students, her first love as a lesbian in her schooldays, and her mother’s need for love at an older age. This is a love story about homosexuality. It is also a story about honesty, about honesty to oneself! At the end of the story, Flavia says: ?I don’t know. I have been losing things all my life. Now I have also lost my own child. But I have myself. Perhaps this is the only thing that I could ever have, and the only thing that I could never lose?. Times are changing and our society has accepted homosexuality as it is. However, in Hong Kong cinema, homosexuality is still being treated as a gimmick. As a gay film in a Chinese society, there is a need for us to let different voices have the opportunity to express themselves. Although this story is told from the viewpoint of a woman, it shows the multiplicity of identity and the story itself, just like the smell of tealeaves slowly spreading from boiling water. This story has nothing to do with femininity. It is about the care and concern for the correct attitude against one another.?You’re not a butterfly if you can’t fly!?.

Swaddled identities
by Marco Ceresa

“I am a lesbian”, communicates resolutely the protagonist of Hudie to the sorrowful (though not much surprised) husband. Honk Kong cinema of last decade, both mainstream and the New Queer Cinema, has already shown several lesbians, from the nostalgic to the soft-core kind (one is from China, Fish and Elephant by Yu, in Venice in 2001), however this is the first time that lesbian identity is given such a clear and at the same time calm voice. With Hudie we are far-off from the soft colonial homesickness of The Intimates (Zhishu) by Jacob Cheung (HK, 1997), where homoerotism is sublimated in the mutual act of combing. We are far from the proto-lesbian soft-core of Intimate Confessions of a Chinese
Courtesan (Ai Nu, 1972), by Chu Yuan (Chor Yuen). We are far from the social marginality of the protagonists of Ho Yuk: Let’s Love Hong Kong (Yau Ching, HK, 2002), the first Hong Kong lesbian feature film directedby a woman. We are also far from the convenient postulate of a traditional Chinese bisexuality, which seems to have been caged either into
homosexuality or heterosexuality by western cultural colonization (see the persistence of the exchange of roles and the en travesti comedy very frequent in Hong Kong cinema, for example Wu Yen, 2001, by Johnnie To and Wai Kai-fai). Hudie is about coming out, that is the public assertion of one’s sexual identity, not about becoming aware of it. The protagonists of Hudie are Chinese women (rather generations of women: the teacher, the
students) who love other women, without great uncertainties or any bigger or more painful problems than those which must be faced in similar circumstances by women of various non-Chinese cultures. In Yan Yan’s contemporary view there is no hint to the weight of tradition, patriarchal society, foot swaddling (more or less metaphoric), the role of the woman in Confucian society, or any of the other outdated parameters which are normally used to understand a quickly developing society as is the Chinese one. Her protagonists move in space which is no more “Chinese” than any middle-class environment of any industrialized society; men, fathers and husbands, are not more domineering or abusing than any other man in any advanced society; Chinese “traditional” family is anything but strict and close-knit, rather they do not hesitate to accuse each other of unfaithfulness. As usual Yan Yan Mak purifies her subject of any oriental or exotic feeling, remindful of “red lanterns” or “farewell my concubine” and concentrates on love relationships, on bodies and desires, and their expression. Whereas the previous lesbian films used to play with metaphors and fading (and a certain titillation of male fantasies), Yan Yan Mak shows (crudely reminding of home video) and particularly she says, or makes someone say.

The reiterate expression of the desire and love between tw women (I love you, I can’t live without you), break the silence around lesbian relationships, non more invisible or subject of erotic male literature: melodrama becomes a political act. However, the very coming out, the chrysalis becoming a butterfly, takes on other metaphoric connotation. With respect to China, representing homologation, orthodoxy, the one model, that is eteronormative ideology, Honk Kong is the other, minority, queerness. That is a vast queerscape, as Gordon Brent Ingram says. Even after the “necessary marriage”, represented by the handover, Hong Kong maintains its own identity, a secret soul, a need/temptation to break chrysalis and bloom out (again). The protagonist’s earlier relationship happened Tian’anmen riots, when Honk Kong was not yet united to the motherland”, though the risk was apparent on the televisions all over the world. Jin, the lover, is already out, involved in politics, a goer, restless, far too much ahead for her times, certainly too ahead with respect to Flavia. The tacks entering Tian’anmen Square destroy Jin’s illusion, while Flavia yields to the family’s pressure. Handover. Marriage. A daughter. A comfortable middle-class life in post handover Honk Kong, where unchanged affluence gives the illusion that nothing has changed. A feeling of guilt for leaving the lover (who has become a Buddhist nun: it is still melò, it is still Hong Kong!), hands being washed continuously (the most frequent gesture in the film). When passion comes back, through a determined, seductive and disenchanted young woman, it is a mature passion, involving painful though necessary and conscious choices. Gege (Brother) was the unsuccessful quest of the missing elder brother, of a mute, elusive and selfish China, of a lost identity Hudie is about the end of the quest, the arrival, about acquired, asserted identity. Sexual identity, for the time being. Maybe political or national identity in the future.

Thanks to Mostra del Cinema di Venezia