THE SOUL (缉魂) (NETFLIX) (2021)
SYNOPSIS: While investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma.
Despite the ongoing political entanglements, The Soul is a co-production between Mainland and Taiwan proving by putting aside all differences, great cinematic work can be accomplished by Chinese from all nations. Loosely adapted from one of sci-fi novelist Jiang Bo’s works, the screen version is written by director Cheng Wei-hao and two other credited writers.
Expectations are high given that Cheng has a good track record with movies liked The Tag-Along and Who Killed Cock Robin and with The Soul, the young Taiwanese filmmaker clearly is one talent to watch out for.
Prominent businessman Wang Shih-Tsung (Samuel Ku) is killed by his estranged son, Wang Tien-Yu (Lin Huimin) in a mystic occult ritual. The younger Wang fled the scene after the killing and the only witnesses are elder Wang’s second wife, Li Yan (Sun Anke) who was found unconscious beside Wang’s body and their domestic helper. In comes Prosecutor Liang (Chang Chen) and his colleague and wife A-Bao (Ning Chan) who feels that there are more to it than a simple case of murder given that all Wang’s assets and his billion-dollar company are bequeathed to his friend and CEO, Professor Wan (Christopher Lee) and Li Yan.
It so happens that Liang is suffering from brain cancer but instead of taking a leave of absence, Liang continues to work on the high-profile case with A-Bao, hoping to leave whatever money he can to his partner and unborn child. Coincidentally, Professor Wan is working on a breakthrough in tackling cancerous cells in an attempt to revive the fate of the company which is currently in financial trouble. These and many more developments constitute a suspense thriller that even a diehard movie fan will find difficult to predict the final outcome or solve the mystery.
There’s in fact no horror elements present in The Soul even though Cheng frequently distracts us with mentions of occult rituals, curse and a tease of the supernatural. And why the movie is set in the near futuristic Taipei basked in neon-blue and dark hues reminiscent of Blade Runner? The logical explanation could be Cheng is trying to introduce us to the concept of “memories transferring” from one person to another. How this scientific experiment be tied to the murder? It’s best you watch the movie to find out the truth.
Cheng cleverly piles on twists after twists. Just when you thought the mystery has been unravelled, Cheng tops it with another turn. To his credit, the story never feels fabricated, the emotions never phony. At the core of The Soul, it’s all about human relationship. Tragic but true. Professor Wan and A-Bao are victims of love and so is Wang’s first wife, Tang Su-zhen (Zhang Baijia) while Li Yan is simply a victim of greed.
The Soul is a slow-boiler with plenty of exposition and dialogue so don’t expect any fancy chase scenes between cop and suspect although Cheng’s frequent collaborator, Ning Chang gets to kick ass in one particular scene. Running at 130 minutes, it does require a little patience but the compelling premise never disappoint. Chang Chen’s physical transformation as the emaciated Liang is truly stunning. Ning Chang is excellent as well and with her short crop, she reminds one of 80’s actress Fennie Yuen. Given such a layered character, Christopher Lee turns in one of his meatiest performances in years. Great twisty story, emotionally staggering performances and strong direction, this is one flick that shouldn’t be missed.
Review by Linus Tee