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Mr. Butterfly - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2003

Romance, Drama

Kim Hyeon-seong

Kim Min-jong
Kim Jeong-eun
Lee Jong-won
Lee Moon-sik
Park Sang-wuk
Kim Seung-wuk
Doggo Yeong-jae

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Mr. Butterfly

Story: Min-jae (Kim Min-jong) wants to make it big in the 70s and therefore decides to go to Seoul. He leaves his girlfriend Eun-ji (Kim Jeong-eun) in their hometown, but promises her to return after a year. Five years later, meanwhile Min-jae was a member of a gangster organisation and dropped out again, he tries his luck as a gigolo. By chance the woman he meets turns out to be no one else but Eun-ji. She can't forgive him having betrayed her and she also changend a lot during the last few years. She has become the wife of influential Colonel Heo (Doggo Yeong-jae) who treats her with an iron fist and keeps her on a short leash. Min-jae is plagued by pangs of conscience and so he visits her at home. Heo finds out about it and hires someone to tail Min-jae. He even takes care that Min-jae ends up in an re-education camp alongside other criminals. There he is supposed to be disposed of forever, but Eun-ji knows the head of the camp, Hwang (Lee Jong-won), and asks him to release him after the minimum camp time of six months. Hwang is willing to do her this favor, but Heo is his superior...

Review: 2003 was a great year for the Korean movie. "Oldboy", "Memories of Murder", "Save the Green Planet", "A Tale of Two Sisters" and "Silmido" all came out that year. This small list isn't just randomly put here. Every one of the aforementioned movies deserves it more to be seen a second or third time than to watch "Mr. Butterfly" just once. Is this drama really that bad? Not necessarily, but it's yet so generic and most importantly shifting in tone that the completely absurd finale doesn't surprise you after all. However, at first glance the plot isn't that bad as it revolves around a re-education camp the kind of which actually existed in South Korea during the 80s.

Mr. Butterfly - Film Screenshot 11

Nevertheless, at fist everything starts pretty innocently with a sweet-as-sugar love story. Eun-ji already tortures the audience with her tearjerking here but her relationship with Min-jae, a guy rough around the edges, but despite his skills as a gangster has something feminine or at least nothing cool about him, still promises some departure from your usual romantic drama. When Min-jae is taken to the camp he becomes quiet, though, and withdraws into his shell. The character lacks coherence. When it comes to Eun-ji, played by Kim Jeong-eun ("Forever the Moment") it is just the other way around. She was cold and dismissive, as is understandable after meeting the man again who destroyed her life, but soon after she is running after him again and starts shedding tears every single minute...

Mr. Butterfly - Film Screenshot 12

I can't help it, Eun-ji just really isn't good for the movie. She indirectly causes a giant mess and in fact is responsible for the demise of several characters. If it at least would be comprehensible what Min-jae likes about her... In short, you surely wouldn't mind if she didn't survive the showdown. The things Min-jae has to endure in the camp aren't really presented as gruesomely as reality probably was, leading to the fact that we don't pity him that much. Accordingly, there isn't any emotional link to any of the protagonists. Hwang as the at first helpful soldier undergoes the strangest of all transformations, though, and alongside the script steers the movie completely against the wall at the end.

What exactly is "Mr. Butterfly" aiming to be? A love story and a drama? But also a critical statement about president Chun Doo-hwan's re-education camps? At the end things come thick and fast and in such a ridiculous way that even elements of a war movie are finding their way into the flick. But somehow that's not important because at the latest when one completely absurd twist follows the other during the finale we realize that nothing can save the film anymore. What's also peculiar is that two supporting characters, which apparently were supposed to serve as a funny addition and more than anything else come close to being caricatures, turn out to be the individuals in the movie that are the most elaborated and they can even earn our sympathy. Yet, the question marks the clumsy ending leaves us with and the tiresome melodrama prevent any positive qualities of the movie to stick with us.

Mr. Butterfly - Film Screenshot 13

Still, the composition of the pictures is good, the soundtrack isn't bad either and the scenes at the camp are quite appealing all in all. It even would have been possible to make something out of the rather hackneyed story, but ultimately every cliché is being used in the most shameful way. And even ten years ago they were clichés the kind you would get to see in a tv drama show only. There are coincidences that guide the plot in the most extreme manner, characters only die after they have been hold in someone's arms one last time and the best moments of the romance are recapitulated in a flashback one more time. And I still couldn't get over the totally rushed and absurd showdown. "Mr. Butterfly" is one of those melodramas that want to capture male audiences with a few small action scenes as well, but in the end only manages to touch middle-aged housewives.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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