Swallowtail Butterfly (1996) Poster

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simon_booth17 March 2002
I'd seen the name Swallowtail Butterfly mentioned in quite a few places, always favourably. I either didn't know or couldn't remember the slightest thing about it, but decided to pick it up on an expensive whim.

Director Shunji Iwai has done a few movies that don't seem to get seen much in the west, but always draw praise when they do. I will certainly be looking out for his work in future, if Swallowtail Butterfly is a good representation of his talent.

Since I didn't know anything about the movie, and enjoyed it that way, I won't reveal too much. The main background to which the movie is set is the "Yentown". This is either the name that immigrant workers gave to the Japanese city to which they came looking for money, or the name given by the Japanese that rejected them to that class of people. It is also the name of the band that Shunji Iwai recruited for the movie, and the original name of the movie itself in Japan, just to make matters more confusing :)

At the start of the movie we see the corpse of a Chinese Yentown being handed over to the authorities. The other Yentown deny knowing her, and the 16 year old girl looking mournful particularly denies that she might have been her mother. This is untrue, but if nobody claims the body then the state will provide a funeral that her friends and relatives could not afford. The prospect of looking after the girl does not appeal to her mothers friends, so she is handed on from person to person until a prostitute called Glico finally takes pity on her.

The movie expands from this point in gradually widening circles, paced with a precision that would make King Hu proud. It's impossible to place the movie in one genre, but social-realism, coming of age drama, rockumentary and crime thriller all fit one part or another of the 2.5 hour running time. The whole movie is shot on hand-held cameras, sometimes in a dizzying documentary style, sometimes in a tense thriller style, sometimes in a gentle dream-like way. The use of filters and lighting, and a nice grainy film stock, all ensure that it looks wonderful throughout. The soundtrack is similarly wonderful from start to finish - both the orchestral background music of Takeshi Kobayashi and the flat out rock n' roll of The Yentown Band and their wonderful singer Chara (the new love of my life I think!).

The different tones of the movie that follow the shift in genre and the sometimes radical changes of scale that the narrative takes in are all blended skillfully, provoking a wide range of emotional responses. The performances are all excellent, and the characters very interesting and well defined.

In essence, this is basically a masterful film that shows extraodinary skill from Shunji Iwai as a director. Watching it is a reminder of just how far from the potential of the medium most movies fall. I look forward to following his career, wherever it might take him. It's such a shame that a movie that is such a work of art will probably be seen by a tiny audience in the USA, whilst brain-dead Hollywood "blockbusters" pack multiplexes in every town. I guess at least most people will never know what they're missing.
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Excellent mixture of style and content.
The Truth17 April 2000
While I'm particularly fond of Japanese films, I must admit quite a few of them are enjoyable only because of their unique style, not because of their actual content. Films like Shark Skin Man And Peach Hip Girl are fun to watch, but that's all there is to them. Yentown (Swallowtail's original title), on the other hand, is a prime example of Japanese cinema at it's finest. Combining music and politics, drama and action, social commentary and humor, art film and popular film, Yentown is a true post-modern experience, rich both in style and in content.

The film takes place in the Tokyo of near future, in a ghetto inhabited by immigrants from all over Asia. The status of immigrants is a touchy subject in Japan, and it has been widely covered in many of the recent Japanese films. What separates Yentown from them is that it uses the ghetto only as a starting point, and although the hardships of the immigrants (and outsiders in general) are a major theme, it is only one of the numerous subjects the film explores.

Basically, Yentown is about dreams. The story revolves around a group of poverty-stricken immigrants, to whom a sudden twist of fate gives the opportunity to literally make money and thus realize their dreams. Unfortunately, their luck is not without it's consequences, and even if they get what they've always dreamed of, they may realize they've chasen the wrong dream. This may not be the most original of ideas, but the story is told with such energy and originality, and with such sympathetic characters, that the viewer soon forgets the familiriaty of the basic plot.

Yentown is a type of film that gets even better on multiple viewings. The story is told in a non-linear way which can make the film seem a bit confusing, at least when seen for the first time. There are elements (and even characters) in Yentown used mainly as metaphors, and to careless viewer it may appear that the film doesn't quite properly tie up it's threads. But if the viewer has the courage and patience to watch a film quite different from our Western tradition, Yentown will reward him/her with an unique blend of emotion, wit and beauty.
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This movie has all you'll ever need
obsidian-820 September 1999
This is really an intense masterpiece. Not only its length of more than 2 1/2 hours, but the carefully developed characters and the twisting story qualify it for a top rank in movie-history. The story itself takes place in the outskirts of Tokyo where a lot of non-japanese people live, looking for the fast Buck (or Yen), for returning home rich. To tell more of the story would be unfair, but be assured it consists of violence, romance, hope and (best of all) the Japanese singer Chara performing "My Way". This is the kind of movie leaving you more than once with a big smile in your face and tears in your eyes, just because this moment is so...I don't know...joyful. Watch it!
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Berry Good Movie
ElijahCSkuggs4 October 2006
Like many of you, I search the internet for unknown gems of cinema. I happened to pass by a thread on powerful films. I kept on seeing the same names: City of God, Carandiru, Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros, Saving Private Ryan and then I saw this. The person talked highly of it, I researched it a little more. Being a very big fan of Asian film I decided to find it cheap, which I did on eBay, and then buy it. One of the best buys I've had in a while. A few other good buys were DEAD MAN'S SHOES, THE DESCENT, BAD BOY BUBBY and A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS.

This story pretty much has it all. It has all the elements of a great drama. To name a few, it was funny(love how they spoke English), tragic, thoughtful, violent and memorable. I apologize but I'm not going to describe the movie to you, because it's slightly difficult to do. I can say that it's about people called Yentowns who live in a city named Yentown. Sounds simple, but the movie delivers on so many levels that it's anything but.

I hope you enjoy the film as much as me. If you enjoyed the movies I mentioned above, there are not many reason for you not to. It's not a perfect film, but it definitely gets the job done. It's really a fantastic film.
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One of the greatest movies ever.
yidaoliangduan1 August 2004
I read through the comments on this film, and was not surprised to see that some people did not enjoy it. That, in my case, is always the sign of a truly great, immensely artistic film. I'm sure it bored some people to tears, confused others, and downright p***ed off a few.

I loved it. I enjoy foreign films, especially good asian films. I loved "In the Heat of the Sun" and "Made in Hong Kong", but this is probably my favorite out of all of them. It's close to the best thing I've ever seen. I like the style, I like the fact that it's in three languages, and I even like the fact that some in the cast were not speaking their first languages. I think that fit into the message of the film, which is that everyone there was in some way or another displaced. I think the idea of a movie about immigrants trying to fit in where they're not wanted is perfect. I think that the speech by the non-English speaking white guy who has never been to America was the summation of the whole film, and Glico's rendition of "My Way" was its heart. Absolutely beautiful, it encompassed so many different aspects of Japanese film-making, and put unique twists on all of them. Excellent movie. If you find it somewhere, watch it. If you're disappointed in the film, sell it on Ebay. If you post it enough times it'll be snapped up by somebody.
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Tattoos, whores, divas & daughters
ETCmodel0224 June 2002
Simply Brilliant. One of my favorite films of all time. Incredible sociopolitical backdrop, incredible array of characters, incredible diversity of situations, styles, nuances. I love and adore this film from the gut to the heart to the mind. On every level it hits a nerve, and my only regret is that this hefty piece of work isn't longer still because the characters get so far under your skin and burrowed into your soul that when the credits roll you feel as though the vacation has come to an end and you're bidding your friends farewell.
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frankgaipa6 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Lower depths, sudden riches, social strata, love vs ambition vs money, bands of waifs, long lost relations, an orphan passed hand to hand. What is this but Dickens? Dickens with a putting-on-a-show twist, a dash of gangster flick, and pinch of terrorism. Aching melodrama. Iwai jerking tears more effectively than in, say, All About Lily Chou Chou , or Love Letter. I recall no tears welling as I watched the Lean films, yet Glico, first in the back of the fleeing van, and later, later in myriad ways, miraculously not drowned out by the band, whisper-singing "My Way"...

The name change is a shame. Used to be listed under its Japanese title, "Yentown." Consider Feihong's line "...Yentown? Your whole ----ing country is Yentown. We're yentowns living in Yentown in Yentown." Think of the final shot of Solyaris, humanity a scab on the planet's flesh-like surface. Yentown as scab, leeching the metropolis, yet impossibly and simultaneously inside and a part of the country-wide megalopolis. Twig: branch: trunk. Fractals.

Also memorable: Ageha as a no-name. The Caucasian who can't speak English. The turncoat news woman, who seems almost a parody of what's-her-name who was in Tampopo, A Taxing Woman, etc. The George Carlin-like tattoo doctor intuiting that Ageha's tears aren't his doing.

Unfortunate: the maudlin replay after Feihong's demise.

Touchpoints? Hugo's Les Miserables, Notre Dame. Anything Dickens. Anything Iwai. Dark Side of the Heart (you figure out why--it's swallowtail butter...fly). Heaven (ditto). Ageha closer to Kiarostami's screen children than to the kids in Morita's The Family Game or its successors, but Kiarostomi's children seldom or never manage to assemble the lessons he throws at them into something more in order to move on.
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The first film of the 21st century
ChWasser28 December 1999
This beautiful movie is set in present-day Japan, but shows to the rest of the world what the future might look like if the WTO brings about their goals. The film centers on some losers of globalization and free world trade who make it big when they discover a tape ("My Way"!) which allows them to make counterfeit Yen. The money soon destroys their solidarity though, and separately they have to face their own problems (expulsion to China, the Yakuza who's after the tape, drugs and a nosy journalist who wants to find the dirt in Glico's success story).

But it's a modern fairy tale, not a naturalistic drama, so expect miracles and uplifting twists and turns rather than a depressing end. The director obviously loves all his characters and so will you; the black boxer with the innocent soul of a child, the philosophical doctor/tattoo-artist, the American who speaks only Japanese, the killer with the b/w-painted face and the cool female sniper are all wonderful characters and these are just the small roles!

If you love movies where people speak in different tongues (in this case Japanese, Mandarin and English) this is THE film for you. If you don't, still go see this masterpiece of innovative filmmaking. You'll thank me for the recommendation.
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a post-modern adult fairytale
liangdong27 September 2003
A post-modern adult fairytale like this cannot shows up every year and even today, when I have already seen all of Shunji Iwai's films, I still have no clue about where did this one surface. It is fairly easier to comprehend ‘love letter' or ‘April story', based on a single good idea, or maybe a little more hard work and careful planning with ‘picnic', but there is no fixed procedure to follow in order to conjure up a desperate complex like this.

The hand-held camera movements and those documentary-like jumping shoots, which make some people uncomfortable in other Iwai's film, are more balanced with montage here. Nevertheless, it is the director's favorite way of seeing this world and had been intentionally deployed just as a reflection of personal disposition but not a obligation in a drama.

Note that it is vital to have all those cool figures, even the cameos, which is a test of originality almost all pseudo-filmmakers would fall short and, on the other hand, the audiences never fail to appreciate. However, unlike his contemporary Kitano, Iwai seems have been running out of sarcastic wits ever since then, or maybe just he was too much occupied by subtle tragedy-romance receiving enormous popularity among teenagers.Despite this, he remains one of the few promising film makers in new millennium Japan.
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Celebrates the immigrant as a romantic figure in Japanese life
howard.schumann8 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In Shunji Iwai's Swallowtail Butterfly, young Ageha (Ayumi Ito) is first a caterpillar who can do little else but crawl. During the course of this 145-minute film, however, she is able to dash against her limitations and, like the butterfly, explode into a million colors. Spoken in three different languages (Chinese, English, and Japanese), Swallowtail Butterfly is a futuristic drama, a fish-out-of-water absurdist comedy, a coming-of-age story, a gangland caper, and a musical odyssey. Popular in Japan, but virtually unseen in the West, it is a whirling cacophony of images and sounds that celebrates the immigrant as a romantic figure in Japanese life.

Conceived when the "yen was the most powerful force in the world", the film speculates about a time in the near future when Tokyo is overflowing with immigrants looking to cash in on the economic boom. "They came in search of yen, snatching up yen", the narration states. "And the immigrants called the city Yentown". Residents were also known as Yentowns so the film is the story of Yentowns in Yentown. Set in the slums and back alleys of outer Tokyo and shot entirely with hand-held cameras, Swallowtail is an ambitious film about immigrants who are bonded by their dream of making quick money in the economic boom and then returning to their home country.

The film's colorful characters are easy to identify with. They include: Ageha, a 16-year old orphan, Glico (Chara) an ex-hooker turned popular singing star, Fie Hong (Hiroshi Mikami), a poor opportunistic immigrant from Shanghai who runs a junkyard, Arrow (Shiek Mahmud Bey), a former boxer, and Ran (Atsuro Watabe), a Yazuka gang leader with heart. After a young Chinese orphan identifies the dead body of her mother, she ends up with a Chinese prostitute named Glico who gives her the name of Ageha (Japanese for butterfly) and sends her to work in a shantytown outside of Tokyo. There she works in a junkyard full of shady characters that shoot out people's tires so they can sell spares to them at double the cost.

When a yazuka "john" is thrown out the window and "squished" by a passing truck, the group burying him in the woods discovers a tape of Frank Sinatra singing "My Way" farcically sewn into his stomach. The tape contains a computer code that can multiply their money which they set about doing. With enough money to open a nightclub and start a band, they hire Glico as the main singer and she is able to begin a singing career which propels her to stardom. In reality, she is the immensely talented Japanese pop singer Chara (real name Sato Miwa) and her songs: "My Way", "Sunday Park", "Mama's Alright", "She Don't Care", and "Swallowtail Butterfly" in the film were released in a successful CD called the Yen Town Band.

Not long after the club is open to paying customers, however, the yazuka gang led by Rio Ranki (Yosuke Eguchi) comes after the money-making tape and the police close in on Glico's friend Fei-Hong. Nearing the end of his life, Fie-Hong acknowledges that he has regrets but, in a dream sequence, he pictures a banner labeled Yentown being sprung up over the city and remains upbeat:

And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing... To think, I did all that, and may I say, not in a shy way Oh no, oh no not me, I did it my way

As the Yentown Club disintegrates and the Yentowns go their separate ways, the power that held everyone together disappears and what is left is a loss of innocence and a money burning ceremony that provides an anti-capitalistic exclamation point. Meanwhile, Ageha impresses some local delinquents with her boxing skill and becomes their "boss", transforming herself from a withdrawn child into a mature leader of neighborhood toughs. She also has a poetic side seen when she reminisces about her childhood as an underground doctor (Mickey Curtis) tattoos a butterfly on her chest. Like Ageha, Swallowtail allows us to playfully soar like a butterfly and free the dreams within our heart.
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doesn't get much better
FitzRand27 February 2000
It is a horrible shame that this film has never been released in the United States- I shudder to think how many other films of this caliber I will never see just because Americans hate subtitles. If you are reading this- FIND THIS MOVIE right now!!! Inport it!!! It's worth it, I promise!
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This sure isn't "Shigatsu Monogatari"
regi0n2fan10 November 2001
This is not anything like Iwai Shunji's "Shigatsu Monogatari", with its rather innocent themes and situations. In contrast, "Swallowtail Butterfly" jumps right in with stylized shots of destitute living, seedy shantytowns full of drugs and prostitution, and somewhat gratuitous violence. It was surprising that more than a third of the dialogue was in some form of English, seeing as how the Yentowns all seemed to come from the lower rungs of their respective non-English-speaking countries (i.e., those not able to attend English classes at the grade school and higher level), excepting of course the American boxer. How ironic that they managed to speak better English than most Japanese who have taken several years of English in school. The non-English-speaking white guy was an interesting touch, as was the casting of Yosuke Eguchi as an ethnic Chinese gangster. By far the most confusing characters were Yamaguchi Tomoko and Watabe Atsuro, cast as some sort of foreign (US?)-trained counter narcotics operators. Obviously, such a "black" unit would not be politically viable in Japan, hence the presence of an American-accented squad leader and the exclusive use of (bad) English between Yama-chan and Watabe-kun. I realize that their main objective was to terminate Rianki's counterfeiting ring, but why would they do it by helping Yentowns scam millions of yen from cash machine owners? Don't even get me started on the impossibility of taking out a target on a moving train. Surely, Iwai Shunji's watched "La Femme Nikita" too many times, but even Luc Besson wouldn't have one of his characters pull off such an impossible objective. Overall, the movie was depressing, enlightening, sad, disturbing, and in some ways entertaining (Tomo-chan's scene with the anti-tank weapon was immensely funny). Did i like it? Well, yes.
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greatest film
yvettefu25 September 2002
I would like to say that IWAI is the best new generation Japanese director. Swallowtail has a good cinematography, great script, excellent directing. This movie impressed me when I saw it. Although the actors and actress have some difficulties to pronounce English and Chinese that well, everything else is worth to get it and see it.
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If you can stand some violence and don't demand an easy movie..
jakkiih18 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The movie is quite violent and puzzling, if you are not into that, it cannot be recommended to you then.

Puzzling... yeah well, this movie might seem confusing and the story rather strange, but there's so much more. There are few quite unforgettable scene and character in it. I doubt that I ever forget how a cassette with Frank Sinatra's My Way taped on it, is taken out of a dead woman's stomach with bare hands (yes, it's there, just behind the liver..) But the gore is not all what's in this film. Another great scene is a one where Ageha is "getting a tattoo" and remembering the time when she saw a butterfly for the first time. There are so many levels in the movie, and it means a lot more than it looks like.
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VisionThing21 October 2004
Swallowtail has a very complex and original storyline, which has all the elements it needs to be both touching and highly entertaining. However, the storyline is very fragmented and lacks the dynamics to carry its weight gracefully, and the length of two and half hours is not helping at all.

Casting seems to be mostly based on the looks, being of a standard soap opera quality rather than character studies -- then again, the movie is never intended to be deeply psychological, but a vivid cabaret of art house qualities, drama, and violence. Also, Chara who acts the role of Glico is cute as a button, but I found her quite unfitting for the role as she really can't sing. However, apparently that does not keep you from being a musical success in Japan in real life either, as Chara is actually a pop star there... So it actually figures. ;)

Due to the kaleidoscopic nature and excessive length of the movie I had real troubles focusing on the movie at times, but at least it was refreshingly different and original -- it was enjoyable for a change to watch a movie where every twist and turn was not predictable and customary. Swallowtail tries hard and has a lot of amateurish charm, but in the end manages to be only a curiosity rather than a masterpiece. **/*****
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Two hours a dream
spanner_me16 February 2019
Two hours a dream

Every time I saw Viddy throw millions of dollars into the fire, I was moved to tears.

The movie's temperament and butterfly face impressed me deeply, like a dream of a branch boy. Is "Blue Sky" not a refuge for all runaway teenagers?

The world in the eyes of teenagers is like the chivalrous world in Jin Yong's works. Despite the cruelty of the world, good people can still play freely. The dead can also be remembered forever. I dreamed for more than two hours. Enough.
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whofartedrecs9 March 2005
I wasn't going to say anything, but seeing review after review posted here with "movie of the century" sentiments, I just had to provide a little balance to the discussion. I must admit, I was strongly compelled to check this movie out after seeing all the 10s posted in its favor. I've heard so many glowing words about the director. But with so many films on my to-see list, I am just now getting around to it about five years late. And know I could have easily waited another five had I known what I was getting into.

I've seen enough movies that I can usually tell within the first ten minutes if it's going to hold my attention or not. I nonetheless sit through them all (even something as dreadful as Dr. Dolittle 2) as I've been wrong in giving up on a movie too early (which was not to be the case with Dr. Dolittle 2).

"Swallowtail" had me squirming with boredom from the get-go, but for reasons stated above, I stuck with it... two and a half hours too long apparently. The casting is awful. The characters are goonish and annoying. The cinematography is wretched. The script. Oy vey. What a mess. And come on, original? Give me a break.

For all its faults, I'll take Miike's "Dead or Alive: Final" any day over "Swallowtail" if I'm looking for cross-cultural future shock. Hell, give me "Suburbia." At least the music's good.

And that's not even to slight Chara, because I am a fan of hers. But watching the vocal chords pop out of her neck as she strains to sing a half-ass rock version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" is entirely too painful.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about Kurosawa Kiyoshi. I was telling her how much I loved his movies to which she replied how boring they were. At the same time, she was telling me how much she loved "Swallowtail" and director Iwai Shunji. At this point, having just finished the movie, I have lost all confidence in her ability to judge a movie. Granted, I am not giving up on the latter director after one movie, but you won't see me rushing out to follow up on the body of his work. Sure, lots more things happen on the screen in "Swallowtail" than a movie like Kurosawa's "Bright Future," but "BF" says more and makes me think more with tons less filler. Now that's power.
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So what's all the fuss about?
squelcho11 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
First things first. Why did they let Chara "sing"? Come back Ronnie Biggs, all is forgiven. The whole club/band/creepy gaijin diatribe/instant pop stardom thing was a total waste of time. The movie was doing fine up to that point, but got bogged down in her twee J-pop idol whispering and ridiculous rock clichés. Shunji Iwai may have a great eye, but his ears appear to be in need of a good syringing.

The fractured narrative sometimes made the script seem like it was written in the editing suite, and some of the jerkier cuts jarred badly with their artless futility. The characters struggled to inspire any empathyin the rush to bludgeon us with the message that Japanese society has a racist underbelly. A message effortlessly conveyed in much subtler terms in most of Takashi Miike's movies. The cinematography is sweet enough when it isn't succumbing to 90's MTV crassness. Perhaps I'm just easily bored by kaleidoscopic low shots of blurry knees and shoes. That said, it's worth seeing. There's some interesting observations being made, some flashes of sardonic humour, and the bazooka scene might well have influenced other more radical Japanese directors.

What I see is a film maker struggling to find his identity, and overreaching himself, both in the script, and the direction. His ambition is admirable, but the execution is merely respectable. I'm glad I saw it, but it doesn't compare too well to Lily Chou or Picnic in terms of depth or beauty.
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Crazy madness!
davidl198330 October 2005
This movie mixes a plethora of genres into a psychotic brew. Here you will find comedy, drama, romance, splatter, music video and action-comedy mixed together without any sense of direction. It seems that the director took seven different movies and cut and pasted them together into one flawed movie. It starts of introducing the viewer to the concept "yentown", where people from all around the world has immigrated to make some fast money. The people who didn't make it, has become outcast, also called "yentowns"… The movie's focus lies on a group of "yentowns" especially a prostitute called Glico (named after a candy bar), played by a talentless Japanese musician called Chara. She later becomes a famous pop star, in a pop band called, believe it or not, "yentowns". "Yentowns" has to be the most talentless pop group in the whole universe and makes Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera look like musical geniuses. But the director applies no sense of irony to their musical performances, and expects the viewer to actually enjoy these awful musical acts (for example a cover-song of Frank Sinatra: My way, witch must surely make him turn in his grave!). After that introduction, the movie gets weird and it's hard to find any logic behind any of the scenes. A lot of them focus on characters that haven't been introduced and does not have any linking to the movie as a whole. The scenes are just stands there alone without any foothold on the internal logic or the movie as a whole.

The movies is also unbelievable clichéd, the emotional scenes is laughable in their stupidity and shallowness. The filming technique has many similarities with 90's music videos, with a hand-held camera waging up and down, into a chaotic flurry, which doesn't contribute anything to the movie as a whole, but only make the movie, in certain parts of the film, unbearable to watch. On the upside I haven't laughed as hard at the cinema for years...
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one of the most impressive movies i have ever seen !
Itto-226 October 1999
There are only few movies that are so emotionally powerful and complex , without being kitschy and this is the best example that they exist. It has been a long time ago that i last saw such an tragically wonderful, beautiful picture. It contains all that stands for living. And shows a camerawork which is improving the message of each scene and centering on the great actors without unnecessary effects. This masterpiece has it all: tragedy, humor, violence, humanity, and it shows how brutal and wonderful life can be.

Watch this movie! I INSIST !!
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fuzbuddy9 June 1999
This is easily the best movie of last year's Fant-Asia Film Festival. The young film maker who wrote and directed this film is truly a talent to watch for in the future.

If you enjoy Asian film, you should really try to see this.
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Utter dreck
mth-47 May 2002
Swallowtail Butterfly is the idiotic story of a collection of shantytown hookers and scavengers, led by a spunky multilingual prostitute, who conveniently happen upon a cassette tape hidden in the stomach of a dead rotting john. Their resident computer expert discovers SECRET INFORMATION on the tape (disguised as Frank Sinatra's rendition of "My Way") that allows them to counterfeit Y10000 notes. As a gang war erupts over possession of the tape, the scrappy hooker finds herself propelled into the spotlight as a pop diva. Can she escape the nefarious clutches of the scandal-rag reporter who seeks to exploit her troubled past? Will the brutal-yet-handsome gang lord with a heart of gold be revealed as the salacious singer's long-lost sibling? And will her troubled orphan protege flaunt her prodigious nay-nays for the kindly slum doctor-cum-tattoo artist?

If you read all that, thought Bertolucci's 1900 was a great work of art, and still want to see this clunker, the answers are no, yes, and yes, and I just saved you two hours of agony.

Suffering from a ludicrous script, horrible cinematography, and relentlessly awful acting, this is a prime example of a movie that could only have been improved with gratuitous nudity. Sadly, Ayumi Ito's chest is insufficient to redeem this clunker, which at 148 minutes, is easily 140 too long. And as in the execrable GUNHED (which coincidentally, also features goofy white-guy Mickey Curtis), every actor appears to be on his/her own when it comes to dialogue, as bad Japanese, bad Chinese, and bad English all constantly jockey for ascendancy, usually in the same sentence. The various plot lines don't so much intertwine as interfere, and the film seems to abandon direction every fifteen minutes during the first reel. It's like the director couldn't decide what kind of movie he wanted to make, wrote three scripts, and then shuffled the pages.

Good lord, just say no.
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Breaking Bad before Breaking Bad!
anwaralhussaini26 May 2019
Shunji Iwai is a genius! This movie is so wonder that I enjoyed every single second of it.. so amusing as Frank Sintra would say... Mr Iwai, Sir, indeed you did it your way! Kudos to you!
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nihonniboku4 January 2004
In my honest opinion, this is probably one of the best movies of all time. Definitely in my top ten. We were required to watch this for our Japanese culture class, and I wasn't really expecting much from it. Man, was I wrong. I was completely drawn into it right from the very begining. There was not a single twist in the movie that had me completely floored. I couldn't have imagined any of them, and yet they fit so well. They weren't out of place. Just genius. Do whatever you can to see this film. I beg of you.
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Illegal foreigners in Japan-- deep in crime, filth, and ugliness
hollywoodlegend12 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
After having read that this film was such a masterpiece, I was seriously disappointed. Mostly I bought it because I love actor Eguchi Yosuke. I was shocked to hear him speaking Chinese and some torturous and vulgar English. In fact, I heard very little Japanese throughout the whole long, long film. This film is much uglier than I had anticipated. Quirky pop star Chara, who I've always suspected was more Philippina or Vietnamese than Japanese, plays a kind-hearted hooker from Shanghai. She takes under her wing a young girl who's lost her own hooker mother, saves her from a life as a prostitute, inspires this girl to get a tattoo, and goes on to be a pop singer. Normally handsome good guy Eguchi Yosuke-in his long hair period-plays Chara's brother, a Chinese gang leader. If you're used to seeing him in Japanese dramas, you'll be in for a shock. Most of the characters on screen are anything but Japanese. There's the big black fella who teaches the young girl how to box, the American Jewish doctor who has chosen to work in dirty conditions giving tattoos to other illegals, the white guys who can't speak English, only Japanese, and somehow get by as musicians, and assorted other Middle Eastern (maybe?) illegal aliens who live in squalid conditions and make money attacking passers by. Do not go into this film expecting to see or hear Japanese people, or to see any of the hi-tech, pop culture, or traditional images one normally associates with Japan. Instead you are greeted by Yentown--the dirty world of illegals desperate to get rich in Japan by any means necessary. SPOILER, SPOILER! The main story involves a cassette tape that allows for the duplication of the magnetic strip in money. Thus our "heroes" can counterfeit loads of money, open a night club, let Chara become a singing star (watch for a cameo by her husband Asano Tadanobu), and somehow save the day again when rival gangs threaten them. Overall the film was just ugly. Ugly people doing illegal things in the dark dirty corners of at-the-time prosperous Japan. This is the kind of film that gets rave reviews by those who confuse ugliness for depth and beauty. Many readers will slam this review. Sorry, but I had to review it my way.
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