Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Lesbian passion preferable to blind love

`Butterfly' and `A Man Who Went to Mars' offer different takes on romance and affection: one challenging and raw, one traditional and predictable

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

A Man Who Went to Mars is a modern-day fairy tale about love.


The first week of the new year seems a quiet one for the Asian film industry, though the fever of Kung Fu Hustle (功夫) continues. Box-office takings reached NT$150 million as of Jan. 4 and have left all other released Asian films far behind.

Now confronting Kung Fu Hustle are Butterfly (蝴蝶) from Hong Kong and A Letter From Mars from South Korea. Both films are soft-toned romance dramas, with beautiful and affectionate images, perhaps in the hopes to find an audience distinct from action-comedy lovers.

Butterfly is Hong Kong independent new blood Yan Yan Mak's (麥婉欣) second movie.

The film this year has toured Venice and Busan, and it received two Golden Horse nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Josie Ho, 何超儀) and Best New Performer (Tien Yuan, 田原). It is a well-performed film deserving all this film festival attention.

The story follows a young married woman coming to terms with her lesbian sexuality. Roughly adapted from Taiwanese writer Chen Hsueh's (陳雪) short novel A Woman Called Butterfly, director Mak instills poetic and sensual images of a woman's passion toward another woman.

Butterfly is a middle school teacher who has a wealthy and stable life -- a baby daughter and a loving husband. She encounters a 20-something girl, Yeh, a charming drifter with a child-like smile. Butterfly is deeply drawn to the girl and cannot calm her emotions. The narrative then cuts back to Butterfly's youth and to her high school lover Zhen. With Zhen, she spent a wild time hanging in Zhen's huge apartment, smoking, listening to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," playing with her 8mm film camera and making love all day when the parents were away.

Film Notes: A letter from Mars

Directed by: Kim Jeong-kwon

Screening theaters: Changchun Cinema (長春戲院), 172, Changchun Rd, Taipei (台北市長春路172號)

Running time: 107 minutes

Taiwan Release: today

It was a young passion accompanied by political passion -- the two girls are involved in students' movements and Hong Kong's support of the Tiananmen Square democratic movement of the 1980s. But the passion died quickly after the girls were caught in bed by Butterfly's mom. Butterfly left Zhen and soon had a boyfriend. Zhen devoted herself to Buddhism and became a nun.

Twenty years later, Butterfly's passion for women is evoked again while being seduced by Yeh. A struggle to find her true desire again troubles her heart. This time her husband, her daughter and her job are all dragged into the spiral of desire.

Of course, the intimate scenes of both female couples (past and present) are

crucial parts of the movie. Director Mak's use of lens is direct, raw and powerful, making audiences -- even those who cannot accept lesbian love -- look straight at the passion. Those can be the most successful parts of the film. The drawbacks of the film, however, are the slow and tedious final 20 minutes of the film, including a weak ending.

Korean romance film A Letter From Mars, comparatively, is more of a "normal" film, perhaps a too normal romance drama that is typical and predictable. It is a story about a man's persistent love for his childhood girlfriend.

Set in a humble mountain village in South Korea, young girl So-hee has a dream to go to Mars because she believes her father did not die, but is traveling on that planet. She tries to send letters to the father in Mars but of course, the letters are all returned. In order to not see the girl disappointed, So-hee's neighbor Seong-jae decides to write fake letters and deliver them to her. A love between the two begins to grow.

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