BUTTERFLY CEMETERY (aka ON FALLEN WINGS) (2017) review

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Joe Ma’s Butterfly Cemetery, based on a novel by Cai Jun (whose works also “inspired” Law Chi Leung’s Curse of the Deserted, Fruit Chan’s Kill Time or Joe Chien’s The House that Never Dies II) follows Shang Xiaodie (Zhang Li), a ballet dancer still reeling from the mysterious disappearance of her lover Ming Ye (Vivian Dawson), with a vague newspaper obituary her only element of closure. When she receives an offer to spend one month in Budapest to train a Chinese ballet company founded by the wealthy Zhuang family, she takes it as an opportunity to clear her mind. But once in Hungary, she realizes her lost lover is still alive and is none other than the eldest son of the Zhuang family, that his fate is linked to a mysterious mausoleum on the Zhuang’s property, and that their first encounter in the past was far from random.

Butterfly Cemetery is nothing more, for its first 50 minutes, than a parade of the usual clichés and shortcomings of Mainland Chinese horror cinema (and current horror cinema in general), including tired jump-scares, gratuitous dream or hallucination scenes, bland supporting characters being passive-aggressive, and chunks of exposition delivered via flashbacks and old diaries found in dusty places. The Hungarian locations and Chen Yupeng’s ethereal score do give the film a bit of atmosphere, and the presence of a still stunning Carman Lee as a conflicted matriarch is a welcome one. In her first non-cameo big screen role in almost 20 years, the actress continues the trend of Hong Kong actresses making a comeback in Manfred Wong-produced horror films (see Kara Hui in Blood-Stained Shoes or Pat Ha in The House that Never Dies). But a few scenes of mass butterfly attacks are not much better-rendered than in Tsui Hark’s 40 year-old Butterfly Murders. And while Zhang Li is a reasonably appealing lead, she simply isn’t able to jolt the whole inert affair into life. Then, as head-scratching revelations come cascading, the film just flies off its narrow railing, with a laugh-out-loud finale doused in shabby CGI, that includes a mano-a-mano between two giant butterflies – then should it be “ala-a-ala”?

Long Story Short: Half-risibly boring and half-memorably risible. *

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