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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Kill Butterfly Kill Blu-ray Review




Cauldron Films/Neon Eagle

Blu-ray Release: December 12, 2023

Video: 2.35:1/1080p/Color (IFD and Commando 6 cuts); 1.33:1/480i/Color (Underground Wife cut)

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (IFD and Commando 6 cuts); Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Underground Wife cut)

Subtitles: English SDH; English/Mandarin Burned-in (Underground Wife cut)

Run Time: 87:02 (IFD cut), 85:42 (Commando 6 cut), 85:42 (Underground Wife cut)

Director: Hsu Yu-Lung, Charles Lee Chiu, Godfrey Ho


Years after being assaulted, a young woman (Juliet Chan) seeks bloody revenge on the five men responsible. She is aided by a retired hitman sympathetic to her plight (‘Tattooer’ Ma Sha) and a group of like-minded girlfriends. One by one, each of the creeps are caught in a trap and done away with, but her final quarry has a few tricks up his sleeve… (From Cauldron’s official synopsis)


Come with me as I do my best to unravel the extremely convoluted production history of Kill Butterfly Kill, aka: Underground Wife, aka: American Commando 6. This is not my area of expertise, so please excuse me if I’ve gotten the facts wrong or drawn the wrong conclusions. As far as I can tell, our story begins with Hsu Yu-Lung’s Underground Wife (Cantonese: Hei shi fu ren; aka: I Want to Be a Good Person, 1983), a rough-hewn and vicious entry in a Taiwanese subgenre known as Black Movies. Similar to Japan’s ‘60s yakuza and Italy’s ‘70s poliziotteschi trends, the movement was set off by the popularity of Tsai Yang-Ming’s gritty crime drama, The First Error Step (aka: It’s Never too Late to Repent, 1979). On the whole, Black Movies were incredibly prolific, eventually encompassing around 117 total films produced on ultra-low budgets between 1979 and 1983. These films tended to reflect the melodramas and martial arts adventures of the preceding decades, but bucked those heightened theatrics for a form of “social realism,” a term used to express the genre’s political awareness (tempered to avoid censorship), nihilistic atmospheres, and use of raw violence (again, tempered to avoid censorship).



Rape/revenge was a common trope throughout Black Movies and, as such, Underground Wife was technically chasing a trend within a trend. It also arrived at a point when the genre was moving away from realism into visually stylized territory. I’m not particularly well-versed in Black Movies, but Underground Wife appears to perfectly fit the rape/revenge sub-subgenre with its increasingly ostentatious photography (lots of action shot through intrusive forground elements and a deluge of starburst effects), over-the-top violence, and a vengeful heroine with a near supernatural ability to withstand and deliver brutal punishment. The end result is a hurried, martial arts-infused, Taiwanese-flavored take on Burt Kennedy’s Hannie Caulder (1972), in which a previously meek woman teams up with an aging gunfighter to hunt down the men who defiled her and murdered her husband, and Bob Kelljan’s Act of Vengeance (aka: Rape Squad, 1974), in which a group of women band together to castrate rapists. The combined effect of zipping from location to location, character to character, action set-piece to tragic flashback, and back again, is downright dizzying at times.


Speaking of manic editing techniques, some Black Movies did make their way to North America, but were chopped to bits and recooked by shoestring straight-to-video operations, like IFD Films & Arts Company, and opportunistic filmmakers, like Godfrey Ho. Among the most prolific B-movie director/producers in all film history, Godfrey Ho is the king of the low-budget ninja movie, respectfully remembered as both a maverick independent pioneer of mixtape exploitation and schlock peddling hack of the highest order. Initially, Underground Wife was re-edited and dubbed into English by IFD and Ho as Kill Butterfly Kill, which is the main feature seen in this Blu-ray collection and essentially the same movie as its Cantonese language counterpart. However, Ho later extensively recut the footage with newly filmed inserts of IFD house actors, creating a Frankenstein’s monster of genuinely good, but completely detached action scenes, alongside typically terrible performances from familiar white guy faces, like Mike Abbot and Mark Miller (edit: Neon Eagle's social media has told me that Ho was not involved with the American Commando 6 edit of the film).



For the record, IMDb.com claims that scenes from Underground Wife were also edited into Phillip Ko’s Angel’s Blood Mission (1987), co-written and produced by Godfrey Ho. Unfortunately, Ho and IFD’s filmography is so slapdash and confusing that I’m not sure if this is actually a fourth movie or just another alternate version of Kill Butterfly Kill.


Bibliography:



Video

Apparently, Kill Butterfly Kill and American Commando 6 were released on North American VHS at some point, but it seems that none of Underground Wife’s various offspring found their way onto English-friendly DVD. For this Blu-ray (and digital home video) debut, Cauldron/Neon Eagle (Neon Eagle being a new imprint in collaboration with Mondo Macabro’s Jared Auner) has included the three different cuts – the IFD Kill Butterfly Kill cut, which I’m mostly covering here and where the screencaps come from, the American Commando 6 cut, and the original Taiwan release Underground Wife cut. The Kill Butterfly Kill and American Commando 6 transfers are derived from brand new 4K scans of the “best surviving elements” and are presented in 2.35:1, 1080p. Underground Wife is presented mostly as an extra in 1.33:1, 480i, and is derived from a NTSC to PAL source.


Neon Eagle warns that the HD transfers were created using 4K scans of the best surviving elements and that some scenes are “not ideal.” I failed to capture the scope of scratchy mold damage to some sequences with these screencaps, so just be aware that there are some ‘grindhousey’ moments here and there. If we’re sticking to the Kill Butterfly Kill elements, which are similar across cuts, there is a general lack of clarity that appears to be less the result of worn print material and more the effect of cinematographer Tu Tung-Hsiang’s hyper-stylized, foggy photography. Considering the heavy haze and lens flare effects, details and textures aren’t half bad. The palette has a tinge of purple, like you might expect from an aged print, but it isn’t excessive enough to overwhelm the brighter hues. Aside from the occasionally artifact-plagued stretch (most often in sequences not also found in the American Commando 6 version), the transfer struggles most with dynamic range, which, again, is understandable, given the source material.


The American Commando 6 transfer is listed as being from the OCN. It is cleaner and more impressive where the added sequences are concerned, but the Underground Wife footage is nearly identical between releases, save a few differences in print damage artifacts and the fact that American Commando 6 is brighter, overall. Below are a handful of screencaps from that disc, including one comparison slider to a shared sequence (Kill Butterfly Kill on the left, American Commando 6 on the right). The rest of the caps on this page are from the Kill Butterfly Kill disc.




Audio

Kill Butterfly Kill and American Commando 6 are both presented in their original English mono dubs and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The Kill Butterfly Kill track is relatively clean, so long as the footage looks good, aside from minor buzz at high volume levels (almost certainly found in the original elements). When the image quality dips, so does the audio quality, so there are moments when dialogue grows hissy and the music is warped. The dub script is a little dopey, but the performances are pretty good, so long as you aren’t overly concerned with lip sync. The American Commando 6 exclusive scenes are generally in better shape, but still pretty muffled and obviously dubbed in post.


I’m not sure how accurate the music credits are and both Kill Butterfly Kill and American Commando 6 seem to mix & match original and archival sources, so I’ll just assume that either Chen Hsin-Yi or Stephen Tsang are responsible for the various original synth rock bits and/or the mournful acoustic guitar main theme. These are all major pluses in Kill Butterfly Kill’s favor and tend to sound richer than the string-heavy pieces, possibly an indication that they’ve been borrowed from a library source. American Commando 6 has its own electronic title theme and action cues, while Underground Wife utilizes several of the same themes as Kill Butterfly Kill, but with tracks in a different order. Additionally, the title track is accompanied by lyrics and sung throughout the film.



Extras

Disc 1 (Kill Butterfly Kill cut)

  • Commentary with Kenneth Brorsson and Paul Fox – The co-hosts of the Podcast on Fire Network do a better job than I did detangling the backstory behind Underground Wife and Kill Butterfly Kill (they credit a few fact checkers and research assistants, as well as Hou Chi-jan’s documentary, which was a surprise), including an exploration of the differences between the cuts. They also discuss the wider work of the cast & crew, the history of Black Movies and Taiwanese lady revenge films, the movies that inspired the movements, and censorship issues.

  • Underground Wife (85:42, SD) – The original film is presented in compressed Dolby Digital Cantonese mono. The English subtitles are burned in alongside Mandarin subs, which takes up an awful lot of screen space, though it will be recognizable to those of us old enough to have originally experienced Hong Kong and Taiwanese films on bootleg/import VHS tapes.

  • Photo gallery

  • Trailer


Disc 2 (American Commando 6 cut)

  • Trailer

  • IFD trailer reel (all SD)

  • Phillip Ko’s Hunting Express (1988)

  • Godfrey Ho’s American Commando 3: Savage Temptation (1988)

  • Ho’s American Commando 4: Dressed to Fire (1988)

  • Wen-Hsing Lai & John Ni’s American Commando 5: Fury in Red (1991)

  • American Commando 6: Kill Butterfly Kill

  • Ho’s American Commando 7: Sweet Inferno (1987)

  • Lin Ho’s American Commando 8: Naked Revenge (1989)

  • Paul Wong and Ho’s American Commando 9: Guns to Heaven (1989)

  • Angel's Blood Mission (again, this movie includes footage from Underground Wife)

  • Hsu’s Final Mission Final (aka: Who Knows About Me, 1983)

  • Ko’s Die to Win (aka: Die to Love, 1988)

  • Guns to Heaven (seemingly a different movie than American Commando 9: Guns to Heaven?)

  • Ho’s Sweet Inferno (1987)



The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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