Last Thursday, the red carpet area in front of the Palais de Festival, Cannes, was engulfed by the sound of I Cannot Get Your Love, a Chinese love song from the 1930s. It heralded the arrival of Zhang Ziyi (
Purple Butterfly, a romantic thriller set in 1930s Shanghai, is the only Chinese film selected in the competition category at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
All eyes were on Zhang Ziyi at the film's premiere, were she wore a pink chiffon by Ferragamo. This is Zhang's second visit to Cannes. Her last visit was for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (
In Purple Butterfly, Zhang plays an active female lead, but swords and kung fu have been replace by pistols as she battles nefarious Japanese agents. The Shanghai of the background is strongly imbued with the director's perception of how one of China's greatest cities has both changed and at the same time remained essentially unchanged.
The film tells the story of Itami (Toru Nakamura), a young Japanese man who has grown up in Manchuria. He falls in love with Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi), but the couple split when he returns to Japan. Three years later, Itami returns to Shanghai, a city now rife with violence, as an agent of the Japanese.
Cythia is in Shanghai, but is now called Ding Hui, a member of Purple Butterfly, an underground resistance group dedicated to assassinating Japanese agents. Love is rekindled between the protagonists, but obviously, emotions are complicated by political necessity.
"I've always wanted to make a film about Shanghai in the 1930s. I had this idea even before I made Suzhou River (
"I researched how ordinary people lived during that period and I was astonished at the complexity of their lives," he said. "A normal relationship was so easily torn apart by environment, the war and racial tensions."
Zhang said that she greatly admired Suzhou River and appreciated the latitude that Lou had given her in the making of this film. Although Purple Butterfly has not received much critical acclaim, it has been welcomed by film buyers. With investment by French distributor Wild Bunch, the film is likely to do reasonably well on the international market.
As for Zhang, she has come a long way since her first visit to Cannes. "In the past three years, I have received offers from everywhere. But I'm still young, I need to choose carefully which roles I take so that I can strengthen my acting skills," she said.
Zhang is currently shooting Wong Kar-wai's (