M. Butterfly is a story that, for me, strongly resonates with the story in Farewell My Concubine, which was originally a play (like M. Butterfly) and was adapted into a novel, with then a film based off the novel (I’ve read/watched them all and it’s really excellent). First off, the play’s plotline is very different from the novel and film yet they both reference the play as a sort of foundation for the events to come just as M. Butterfly utilizes the Madame Butterfly. In all three platforms, the story is told in a nonlinear form (in the film too) where it begins with the end and weaves the stories in and out contrasting the change and evolution of the characters directly.
Both M. Butterfly and Farewell My Concubine deal with the Chinese Opera (Peking Opera specifically) but Farewell My Concubine is a far more graphic, and brutal look into the work, and history of the Opera. One of the strongest correlations is that, just as we mentioned, there was no such thing as female actors in China back then so in Farewell My Concubine one of the two main characters was selected and groomed since a very early age to become a “woman” for the stage. He begins to confuse his own identity and it is strongly suggested he is gay and has affections for his stage partner (who is a man and plays a man) who seemingly doesn’t reciprocate. The idea of sexual identity, and nature v. nurture in situations like these may be present in M. Butterfly as well.
It’s really difficult to capture the complex emotional subtleties of this story but I would highly highly recommend the film to anyone (which I feel is more accessible + it was nominated for several Oscars and won the Cannes Palms d’Or!)
M. Butterfly is told from a Westerner’s point of view whereas Farewell My Concubine is an arguably more culturally authentic viewpoint (albeit they don’t deal with entirely the same issues but both plays echo very similar themes and struggles)
The clip above is the trailer.