Combining elements of suspense and science fiction with intense, passionate romance to tell a story of a not-so-distant future, the Taiwanese lesbian short film, Butterflies is set amid a fictional plot involving a civil war that has brought Taiwan under the control of a totalitarian government that has imposed martial law.
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A young woman named Yu is forced to flee after the new government accuses her of hiding the location of rebel forces. Then she receives a message telling her that a woman named Lien can help her get plastic surgery and escape to Thailand.
While the film doesn’t tell us exactly what Yu (played by Han Ning) did, but the scenes of her being viciously beaten to force a confession and witnessing the deaths of her family are distinctly reminiscent of the 2019 supernatural psychological horror Taiwanese film. Detention.
Lien, played by Yu Pei-Jen, lost her parents during the revolution while she was still a child and as a result was raised by her adoptive mother, who pressed her into helping with a plan to swap their souls. Said, Lien's adoptive mother beats or electrocutes Lien for the smallest of mistakes—no doubt another reason that makes Lien only want to fight back.
Lien has a butterfly tattooed across her hands; when she sees the butterfly drawn on the cover of the sketchbook in Yu’s bag, she decides to help Yu. Their shared longing for freedom and their history of being controlled by others brings them closer together.
"Sometimes when I take the red pill, I see myself turning into a butterfly and flying away from this world. Together, we’ll become butterflies and fly away from here."
Butterflies screened at the 2021 Kaohsiung Film Festival. Though it revolves around the tense relationship between Taiwan and China, the director is actually Spanish and has added elements of science fiction that serve to heighten the interest of the audience. Butterflies also pays tribute to classic movies: the red and blue pills are a homage to The Matrix, while the scene of walking across a pedestrian skybridge in Keelung is a homage to Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Millennium Mambo.
The butterflies that appear throughout the film symbolize freedom, and perhaps also represent Taiwan’s own strength of will. As a film, Butterflies is thoroughly creative in its pursuit, avant-garde in its approach and highly recommended from our side.