M.Butterfly #inspiration

The second film I would like to discuss which influenced my story is the unforgettable M.Butterfly.


Being my favourite film of John’s it’s so hard to detail in a short blog what captivated me about this film.  It’s just so perfect in all ways to me, the directing, dialogue and performances of course by himself and Jeremy Irons.


Writer: David Henry Hwang
Director: David Cronenberg

IMDb rating: 6.8/10

The screen adaptation of this terrific play by David Henry Hwang is so perfectly executed in layers of mood, passion and tension.  I have seen many plays converted to screen and wished they’d remained on stage but the quality of this, by the masterful Cronenberg, is something quite unique.  While looking at his impressive back catalogue, it appears Cronenberg has directed one of my other favourite films too, The Dead Zone.

Back to Butterfly though, both actors were perfectly cast for their roles in this touching love story set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.   An ambitious French diplomat Rene Gallimard (Irons) falls for the enchanting opera singer, Song Liling (Lone), he is blinded by love and a huge heap of imperialist naivety to see the bare naked truth in front of him.  That his lady, is in fact, a man.

As for John’s portrayal of Song Liling, Rene captures it perfectly when he mutters to her on the steps outside the Chinese opera “I’ve never seen a performance as convincing as yours” – he couldn’t be more right.  Could this be the same actor who only a few years beforehand played the Emperor and Joey Tai in Year of the Dragon?  Incredible!

Rather than summarise the film I wanted to share some particularly memorable scenes and also the beautiful dialogue that wedged its place in my subconscious.

  • So beautifully filmed, the shadows cast over Song Liling’s face in the scene where she asks him “to be a gentleman and light a cigarette” her face half seen between the curtain and the shadow. This seductive moment remains my favourite scene.
  • Rene receives a love letter from Song Liling and places it on his desk, the perfect lighting on a close up of the letter, with a beautiful inked stamp. Her words explain her torture in being separated from him.
  • On the Great Wall where she asks him why he doesn’t prefer Western women, rather a Chinese woman with a chest like a boy. Her eyes suddenly flash a look of deceit, so quick and unnoticed by Rene’s blind love.
  • The scene with Rene and Frau Baden who is topless when he emerges from a bathroom and a rather unromantic encounter “I thought you would look like that underneath your clothes” she responds “Come and get it then” – or words to that effect, in such contrast to the beautiful words and voice of Song Liling. Love this scene for its sheer crudeness, she’s FAB!
  • The excellent dialogue of Song Liling, far more intelligent than her pursuer in so many ways, this dialogue sums that up perfectly

Song Liling: Well, education has always been undervalued in the West, hasn’t it?Rene Gallimard: I wouldn’t say that.
Song Liling: No, of course you wouldn’t. After all, how can you objectively judge your own values?

  • “Even the softest skin feels like leather to a man who has touched it too often” Song Liling – this line deserves its own bullet point for perfection!  If only I could write words this magnificent.

The story is so much more than a love story though, it explores raw, unrestricted love – by class, gender and race.  The scene near the end in the back of the police van where the two (now) men face each other, is so heart-breaking and cold – the same person who was in a suit now stripped naked and raw, but as Rene confesses he was “more in love with a lie” than the reality of what their love really was.


Clothes, nor gender, do not make the person underneath.   Make up and a bare face can be a mask.

For Bertie:-

“A coward hides behind lies and deceit Celine, she hid behind a colossal one, undetected by Bertie’s eyes, so blinded was he, in love” Dr Albert ‘Bertie’ Chan, SPRING

This story was loosely based on the real life events of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot – which is worth a read too if you are interested in the background to the play.

“A mistress never is nor can be a friend. While you agree, you are lovers; and when it is over, anything but friends. Lord Byron”

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