Color, 1983 / 1987, 87 mins. 2 secs. / 85 mins. 42 secs. / 88 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Hsu Yu-Lung
Juliet Chan, Ma Sha, Paul Chang Chung, Chuen Yuen
Neon Eagle (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
When a new video label starts up, it's always fun to see which title they choose as their first one out of the gate. It's safe to say that few have gone with something as nuts as the inaugural entry from Neon Eagle, devoted to "the trashier side of Asian cinema," which certainly lived up to that promise by diving to the vaults of Hong Kong-based IFD Film Arts & Services whose self-described catalog includes "Bruce Lee clones, ninjas, mobsters, psychopaths, femme fatales and, surprisingly, a giant snake." Fearless VHS explorers in the late '80s and '90s will probably recognize them for the flood of cheap but astonishing Godfrey Ho action epics they unleashed on video store shelves like Ninja Terminator, Thunder of Gigantic Serpent, Diamond Ninja Force, Mission Thunderbolt, and Zombie vs. Ninja, among many others. Stuck in the middle of this wave was Kill Butterfly Kill, a Taiwanese rape/revenge action film that was shot in 1982, released in 1983 in its original form, and tailored for the English-language market by IFD, who then gave it a massive overhaul in 1987... but more on that in a minute. Now this sucker is out as a double-disc Blu-ray special edition, and needless to say, it's a very satisfying start that will hopefully lead to a lot more titles like this.
In its original theatrical version found on disc one, Kill Butterfly Kill is the story of a young woman, Tang Mei-Ling (Chan), or Donna in the English dub, who's out walking alone late at night along some railroad tracks for some reason when she gets ambushed by a gang of five drunken twits. She manages to fight them off for a while with her formidable martial arts skills, but they eventually overpower and sexually assault her. In despair she throws herself off a bridge but gets pulled to safety by a passerby assassin, Richard (Superdragon vs. Superman's "Tattooer Ma" Sha), and over the course of six years, her trauma turns into vengeful outrage as she coordinates a plan to take down her scumbag assailants one by one with the help of a few lethal friends.
Shot in scope with more star filters than a '70s French erotic film, Kill Butterfly Kill gets surprisingly surreal at times including the eerie rail yard opening sequence and a jaw-dropping bit halfway through that turns into a nightmarish hallucination on film. It's pure '80s exploitation all the way with a nasty edge akin to what Shaw Brothers was doing the prior decade with films like The Kiss of Death, whose plot is pretty much identical to this one except with an added STD twist. The combat scenes are plentiful and appropriately violent, with Taiwanese action vet Chan (a.k.a. Chen Li Yun) kicking lots of butt and showing off increasingly massive hairstyles as the film progresses.
Neon Eagle's release really goes the extra mile covering the bases of this film's history with the centerpiece on the first disc being a new 4K restoration of the best available film elements of the 87-minute export English-language version as initially prepared by IFD. This appears to be the first time the film has been available in full scope on home video, and needless to say, it's a far more impressive and coherent visual experience when you can actually appreciate everything that's happening on screen. There is some minor staining and other damage visible at times, but this is likely the best it can possibly look. The DTS-HD MA English-dubbed 2.0 track is also in much better condition here than ever before, and optional English SDH subtitles are included. Also on the first disc is Underground Wife, the 85-minute Mandarin-language version from a standard def, fullscreen master with burned-in English and Chinese subtitles. The two versions aren't radically different in terms of story or style, though the Mandarin version has a prominent theme song, embellishes the rape scene extensively with some arty additions, and runs end credits over the photo stills at the end as opposed to the curious way they're presented in the English dub -- which instead interpolates footage of the pivotal rape throughout the film a few times to better effect. A new audio commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Paul Fox of the Podcast on Fire Network is a thorough study of the film including its placement within the short but fascinating Taiwan Black Movies movement of dark genre films, ties to the other Taiwanese film movements bookending the era, the differences between the versions released around the world, comparisons to Hong Kong films of the time, and the backgrounds of the key actors. Also included on the first disc are an HD scope Kill Butterfly Kill trailer and a 3m12s gallery.
Disc two is devoted to an alternate 1987 version of the film, American Commando 6: Kill Butterfly Kill, which edits down the original film significantly and frames it with new footage featuring IFD staples Mike Abbot and Mark Miller. There's really no better way to encapsulate this than the summary provided by IFD themselves... "Three years ago, special agent Aaron Nolan broke up the Garvino gang. But now the brutal Garvino is on the street again. Aaron and his partner Rick Hammet set out to neutralise ciarvino [sic] at any cost. The beautiful but deadly Donna, a night club owner with the right connections is Aaron's only ally. Years earlier, Donna was brutally raped by Garvino's men. She becomes a deadly weapon when teamed up with Richard, a professional killer. They go after the men one by one. As each member of the mob is killed, Donna relieves the nightmares of the violent capes [sic again] she had to endure." What that means is footage from Butterfly alternates with our two new leads bitching, making tough faces, posing with guns, and running around a lot including a slow-motion foot chase climax through the woods that has to be seen to be believed. The folks behind these reworking actually do a good job of mimicking the look of the original film apart from the bright orange, spaghetti sauce-style stage blood. This radical reworking puts this one in line with the ongoing IFD series of American Commando films, a string of unconnected and frequently doctored direct-to-video action curios like American Commando Ninja, Phillip Ko's American Commando 2: Hunting Express, and Ho's baffling American Commando 3: Savage Temptation. Culled from a 4K restoration from the original negative, this version looks gorgeous all the way through and also benefits tremendously from finally having the original 2.35:1 framing restored. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 audio is crystal clear and also has optional English SDH subtitles. Also on that disc is an utterly outrageous IFD trailer comp (31m28s) in standard def for titles like American Commando 2: Hunting Express, American Commando 3: Savage Temptation, American Commando 4: Dressed to Fire, American Commando 5: Fury in Red, Kill Butterfly Kill, American Commando 7: Sweet Inferno, American Commando 8: Naked Revenge, two different ones for Guns to Heaven, Angel's Blood Mission, Final Mission Final, Die to Love, and the original version of Sweet Inferno. Limited to 1,500 copies in a slipcover with artwork by Justine Coffee, the release also comes with a substantial booklet featuring tons of illustrations, a very informative new essay by Neon Eagle co-founder Jared Auner entitled "Taiwan Noir: A Primer on Taiwan Black Movies" covering just about everything you could want to know about this virtually extinct subgenre, and production notes on this film by Jesus Manuel Perez Molina about the film's release and its two leads. Interestingly, there's a reprint here of a Hong Kong English-language sell sheet for Undercover Wife that indicates a very different resolution compared to what we have in all three versions of the actual film.
Reviewed on May 2, 2023.