M. Butterfly (1993) - Rotten Tomatoes

M. Butterfly1993

M. Butterfly (1993)



Critic Consensus: David Cronenberg reins in his provocative sensibility and handles delicate material with restraint, yielding a disappointing adaptation that flattens M. Butterfly into a tedious soap opera.

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Movie Info

David Henry Hwang adapted his Tony Award-winning play for this fact-based drama about a French diplomat who enters into a torrid love affair with a star of the Chinese opera. What he doesn't realize, however, is that his beloved is a double agent for the Red Chinese -- and that "she" is actually a man in disguise.

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Jeremy Irons
as Rene Gallimard
John Lone
as Song Liling
Barbara Sukowa
as Jeanne Gallimard
Ian Richardson
as Ambassador Toulon
Annabel Leventon
as Frau Baden
Shizuko Hoshi
as Comrade Chin
Richard McMillan
as Embassy Colleague
Vernon Dobtcheff
as Agent Etancelin
David Hemblen
as Intelligence Officer #1
Damir Andrei
as Intelligence Officer #2
Antony Parr
as Intelligence Officer #3
Margaret Ma
as Song's Maid
Tristram Jellinek
as Defense attorney
Philip McGough
as Prosecution attorney
Sean Hewitt (II)
as Ambassador's Aide
Peter Messaline
as Diplomat at party
Michael Mehlman
as Drunk in Paris Bar
Barbara Chilcott
as Critic at Garden Party
George Jonas
as Mall Trustee
Carl Zvonkin
as Surveillance Technician
Viktor Fulop
as Marshal
Cadman Chui
as Accordian Player
Harriet Chung
as Red Guard Dancer
Monica Gan
as Red Guard Dancer
Ayumi Komoda
as Red Guard Dancer
Tammy Lok
as Red Guard Dancer
Tracey Oh
as Red Guard Dancer
Carly Wong Tung Fa
as Red Guard Dancer
Maria Teresa Uribe
as Paris Opera Madama Butterfly
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Critic Reviews for M. Butterfly

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (6)

The problem is not simply that Lone's drag wouldn't fool a baby. In the magnified intimacy of the camera's eye, it's clear Hwang doesn't really know who these unlikely lovers are. Metaphors can't carry a movie-flesh and blood is what's required.

October 18, 2008 | Full Review…
Top Critic

All of this is interesting, in its way, and yet the film of M. Butterfly does not take hold the way the stage play did.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

On screen, under the caring but superficial direction of David Cronenberg, the realism of the camera cruelly exposes all the pretenses of this play about a French diplomat who loves a man posing as a woman.

April 16, 2018 | Full Review…

When John Lone parades around in mascara and speaks in an asexual monotone, the film audience discovers itself staring at John Lone's whiskers underneath his makeup

May 17, 2009 | Rating: 1.5/5 | Full Review…

One of Cronenberg's most problematic and most disappointing films, largely due to the source material.

July 2, 2007 | Rating: C | Full Review…

Cronenberg no longer needs slimy parasites or exploding heads; the human heart's ability to fool itself is frightening and bizarre enough.

April 9, 2007 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for M. Butterfly


David Cronenberg's most bland and disappointing work. Ironic, seeing how the source material is so interesting.

Tobias Ximénez
Tobias Ximénez

Super Reviewer

In "M Butterfly," Rene Gallimard(Jeremy Irons) is a minor official at the French embassy in Beijing in 1964. As such, he is tired of the tedious events on the social circuit, until he watches a performance of "Madama Butterfly" for the first time and is smitten with Song Liling(John Lone), the lead performer. This infatuation leads him to seek a performance of Chinese opera along with a passionate affair between the two, unbeknowst to Rene's wife Jeanne(Barbara Sukowa). At the same time, he comes to the attention of Ambassador Toulon(Ian Richardson) and is promoted to vice consul. "M Butterfly" is an underrated, very evocative and well-acted movie that touches on David Cronenberg's recurring theme of forbidden love(So, maybe he is a big softie at heart...) while also much more political than his other movies.(David Henry Hwang adapts his own play.) Subtly, the point is we see what we want to see, applied personally to Rene who is from a cloistered background.(Hell, even I've seen a performance of "Madama Butterfly.") This is a more modest time when men and women might still have been old fashioned enough to not undress in front of each other. While open to new experiences, he is also very naive in miscomprehending them. Rene is symbolic of the French government which is a decade removed from being forcibly removed from Vietnam, just got ejected from Algeria and are still analyzing Asia through their own colonial preconceptions which leads to vast mistakes, and continues in the present day with other countries in the Middle East.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer


Strange film, even for Cronenberg.

Tim Salmons
Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

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