M. Butterfly (1993) - Rotten Tomatoes

M. Butterfly (1993)




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David Cronenberg's cinematic intensity eviscerates this adaptation of David Henry Hwang's passionate stage production. Based on a true incident involving a French diplomat who carried on an affair for 18 years with a man the diplomat thought was a woman, M. Butterfly begins in 1964 Beijing when French foreign service employee Rene Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) becomes smitten with Chinese opera performer Song Liling (John Lone). Before long, Gallimard is enamored with Song, and they begin an inflamed affair -- bracketed by the stipulation that Gallimard will never be allowed to look upon her in a state of complete undress. Gallimard agrees to the rules, but, as he climbs up the diplomatic ladder, the communist government gets involved, corralling Song to become an informer for the government. When, at last, Gallimard's passion demands nudity, Song flees the relationship. Gallimard, pining for his lost love, then becomes a physical and mental wreck. He leaves China and accepts a two-bit diplomatic position, but then Song appears once again to Gallimard. At that point, Gallimard is arrested and, during the subsequent sensational trial for treason, his affair is exposed for the sham that it is.more
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By: David Henry Hwang
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 18, 2006
Warner Home Video


Jeremy Irons
as Rene Gallimard
John Lone
as Song Liling
Barbara Sukowa
as Jeanne Gallimard
Ian Richardson
as Ambassador Toulon
Annabel Leventon
as Frau Baden
Shizuko Hoshi
as Comrade Chin
Richard McMillan
as Embassy Colleague
Vernon Dobtcheff
as Agent Etancelin
David Hemblen
as Intelligence Officer...
Damir Andrei
as Intelligence Officer...
Antony Parr
as Intelligence Officer...
Margaret Ma
as Song's Maid
Tristram Jellinek
as Defense attorney
Philip McGough
as Prosecution attorney
Sean Hewitt (II)
as Ambassador's Aide
Peter Messaline
as Diplomat at party
Michael Mehlman
as Drunk in Paris Bar
Barbara Chilcott
as Critic at Garden Par...
George Jonas
as Mall Trustee
Carl Zvonkin
as Surveillance Technic...
Viktor Fulop
as Marshal
Cadman Chui
as Accordian Player
Harriet Chung
as Red Guard Dancer
Monica Gan
as Red Guard Dancer
Ayumi Komoda
as Red Guard Dancer
Tammy Lok
as Red Guard Dancer
Tracey Oh
as Red Guard Dancer
Carly Wong Tung Fa
as Red Guard Dancer
Maria Teresa Uribe
as Paris Opera Madama B...
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Critic Reviews for M. Butterfly

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (9)

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Top Critic

Full Review… | October 1, 1993
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Full Review… | February 23, 2012
Top Critic

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for M. Butterfly


Strange film, even for Cronenberg.

Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

David Cronenberg's strength is bringing out the humanity of the oddest characters in the oddest situations. Perhaps the well-known story of M Butterfly was too narrow for him to experiment? Perhaps he decided it was best to stick to the play as faithfully as possible? I don't know what happened, but the imaginative, irreverent, twisted, the king of psychosexual dramas that David Cronenberg has always been and that I have always loved, is repressed. Little inventiveness. All in all, a very conventional film.

The upside: beautiful cinematography, excellent performance from John Lone and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons can do no wrong. He always plays very similar, tortured characters, but does a great job in every occasion. Rene Gallimard is a blind, vague character, but Irons pulls out the best of him. I would watch the film only to see that.

Bottomline: this could have been fantastic! It's just good.

Elvira B

Super Reviewer

In "M Butterfly," Rene Gallimard(Jeremy Irons) is a minor official at the French embassy in Beijing in 1964. As such, he is tired of the tedious events on the social circuit, until he watches a performance of "Madama Butterfly" for the first time and is smitten with Song Liling(John Lone), the lead performer. This infatuation leads him to seek a performance of Chinese opera along with a passionate affair between the two, unbeknowst to Rene's wife Jeanne(Barbara Sukowa). At the same time, he comes to the attention of Ambassador Toulon(Ian Richardson) and is promoted to vice consul.

"M Butterfly" is an underrated, very evocative and well-acted movie that touches on David Cronenberg's recurring theme of forbidden love(So, maybe he is a big softie at heart...) while also much more political than his other movies.(David Henry Hwang adapts his own play.) Subtly, the point is we see what we want to see, applied personally to Rene who is from a cloistered background.(Hell, even I've seen a performance of "Madama Butterfly.") This is a more modest time when men and women might still have been old fashioned enough to not undress in front of each other. While open to new experiences, he is also very naive in miscomprehending them. Rene is symbolic of the French government which is a decade removed from being forcibly removed from Vietnam, just got ejected from Algeria and are still analyzing Asia through their own colonial preconceptions which leads to vast mistakes, and continues in the present day with other countries in the Middle East.

Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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