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Butterfly Lovers

Layer ID: butterflylovers
by Lily & Honglei, with John Craig Freeman

A Reinterpretation of a Chinese folktale, by Lily & Honglei

The Butterfly Lovers reinterprets a Chinese folktale and metaphorically reflects on cultural displacement. Originally, The Butterfly Lovers is a thousand-year-old legend of a tragic love story often regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. Under the same title, our film places the two protagaonists into a different setting, the landscape of New York City. Loosely based on the narrative of the folktale, the tragedy is unveiled with a completely different context: in the first scene, dressed in traditional Chinese male costume, the couple roam around Times Square at a rainy night, and play the ancient melody ofA Moonlit Night On The Spring River with flute on subway station. The camera switches to interior scene, where one of the protagonists is found changing custom to reveal her female identity, while the male character starts vomiting blood sitting in front of a fish tank, a typical deco at Chinese restaurant. The last scene stages the couple standing on Brooklyn Bridge, from where the male character shoots his bow without an arrow toward the vast, empty sky. Gradually, the couple, the glamorous metropolitan landscape, and the restless East River, are all absorbed into boundless darkness.

There is a clear contrast between the ancient appearance of the characters and the modern metropolitan background. This metaphor immediately addresses and visualizes the issue of cultural identity. In today’s global society, we are unceasingly challenged by cultural confrontations that impact on both our personal and intellectual lives. For artists, it is pertinent to discover new perspectives enhancing the understanding of our diversified society. Reinterpreting Chinese folkloric traditions in a contemporary context becomes a way not only connecting immigrant community members including ourselves with their cultural roots, but also conveying spirit and value of Chinese culture to a global society. Hence, the work creates both inward and outward dialogs.

In The Butterfly Lovers, we integrate fine art and video languages to construct a new aesthetic space. The time-consuming production procedure begins with creating a series of large-scale oil paintings, that have to be digitized for editing process. The use of time duration, movements, montages and soundtrack adds multiple dimensions to the work, namely, new media approaches employed give impetus to Chinese traditional culture.

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