Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death comes to us from South Korea thanks to director Kim Ki-young, whose contributions to cinema seem to have been unfairly overlooked throughout his lifetime. In this 1978 film, he explores a cinematic mind-trip of stories that, for long periods of time, seem to have only a minor connection between each of them in that they revolve around philosophical discussions about death. Long-winded at 116minutes, the film offers up vignettes featuring strange, surrealistic occurrences its main character Young-gul experiences including a book salesman who comes back from the dead as a scholarly skeleton, a young woman who is also revived from the dead but needs to eat a human liver to remain alive, and another young lady who could be a love interest for Young-gul except she wants to kill herself and him together to carry out her friend’s suicide-homicide plan. And yes, these all happen in the same movie.
Honestly, it takes Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death quite a while to come into its plot. Its opening sequence sets things in motion as Young-gul is nearly poisoned to death by a woman in the park who plans to kill herself and take someone else with her; from there, Young-gul is plagued by a depression where he believes he himself wants to die, unable to shake the PTSD of near-death experience. From there, the film is plagued by a couple of overly-long sequences with reciprocal dialogue; the repetition of the bookseller’s discussion about conquering death by employing free will employs the overall theme of Ki-young’s movie but also prolongs moving into the plot’s more interesting elements, like the random serial decapitator sending Mongoloid skulls to Young-gul’s archaeologist/pathologist boss.
Once the viewer gets through the first hour, Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death opens up a bit more, especially once we meet Young-gul’s boss’ daughter, a young lady who is also obsessed with killing herself and hoping that Young-gul will join her to make her happy. Things spiral into madness, with the woman suddenly getting diagnosed with cancer along with an incredibly weird ending that simply needs to be seen.
This movie won’t be for everyone. It’s definitely too long for its own good, and there are moments of tedium interspersed between more surreal, often extremely colorful scenes. However, the experience is certainly worth at least one patient viewing; while the philosophical intention of the film’s themes on death may not be revelatory, the odd uniqueness of Ki-young’s vision certainly will be.
Extensive screenshots from this Blu-ray
Mondo Macabro have brought Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death back from near-extinction with a new Blu-ray release featuring a 4k transfer of the original negative. The film itself tends to have a pinker hue throughout that gives it a warm vibrance, and the color is preserved quite well with this new release. For the most part, the film looks fairly sharp in quality, but some apparent damage to the negative has caused what I would call burn-in that’s apparent in darker scenes; this is at times a bit obstructive when attempting to see what’s happening, but that’s not Mondo Macabro’s fault and is due to the film’s preservation itself. Small blemishes and burn marks along with lines can be seen in random scenes but other than that the Blu-ray is free of issues that Mondo Macabro could control. It’s not a pristine video but it certainly looks about as good as can be given the apparent state of the negative.
Audio is listed in information for this release as an LPCM mono track, though from what I can tell the audio on the disc is actually a DTS-HD MA Korean 2.0 mono track. Overall there is nothing wrong with the audio aside from the occasional background hiss and a few bits of distortion, possibly even due to the recording of the track itself. English subtitles are obviously included automatically.
Extras are surprisingly robust for this release including a new audio commentary with Kenneth Brorsson and Paul Quinn along with new interviews. Darcy Paquet, a film scholar specializing in Korean cinema and especially Kim Ki-young’s body of work gives a quick interview answering 11 questions about the director’s work. Actree Lee Hwa-si talks about her work with Ki-young as well since she starred in multiple films. There’s a two part interview with producer Jeong Jin-woo and a shorter interview with cinematographer Koo Jong-mo. The majority of these interviews dive into their careers and spend only a little time on Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death specifically.
(Due to an error the bitrates did not scan correctly, we are working on rectifying this)
Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death is a unique film that certainly requires at least one watch to dive into the surreal qualities of director Ki-young's cinema. Mondo Macabro gives us a great Blu-ray with a nice 4k transfer and a variety of extras.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Good 4k transfer with a modicum of damage, probably the best the film will look
Surreal mind-trip of a movie
Wish the features were a bit more specific on the movie itself