Director(s): Chung Mong-hong
Release Year: 2013
Soul had a premise that really did something for me. A man is possessed by a spirit and begins having violent outbursts. He is then locked up by his father until he finds out what exactly is going on with his son, and how he can get his son’s soul back. The problem with the premise is that it is never fully realized. There is a lot of meandering and senseless decisions by characters, that equate to a film which really wants to seem sinister, but just cannot do it for longer than a couple scenes. For the most part, the performances are okay, with the highlight being the father (Jimmy Wong) as the man who has to deal with his son, A-Chuan (Joseph Chang), and his illness. Often visually striking, and able to convey a sense of suspense when it wants to, Soul misses the mark in being an excellent film because of its slow-moving plot and jarring attempts at dark comedy.
Chung Mong-Hong’s third feature-length film is one that definitely shows an expertise in many regards. Most enriching of all is the way the film demonstrates its metaphysical concept in just its visuals alone. Shots of insects, flowers, and various other forms of nature are sprinkled throughout Soul, creating an ethereal portrait of something more grand occurring beyond the scope of humanity. The problem with this is that loose ends never quite get tied up, despite having clear endpoints in mind. The entire epilogue of the movie feels like a waste of time because its atmosphere is very much disconnected from the mood set throughout the majority of the film.
There are plenty of those moments within the film though that take you out of the experience. I tried justifying some of the actions that the father himself makes, but came up short more often than not. And then there is the character of Wu, who is a bumbling cop that used to go to school with A-Chuan. His demeanor is off-putting in relation to the rest of the movie. He does end up becoming an important part of the themes of Soul, but it just feels weird in the moment. The movie is definitely going for a more psychological approach, which winds up working a lot of the time especially thanks to the score behind it. Most of the compositions have a very haunting sound to them that accentuate the moments of intense silence and ambient-focus.
Soul is a solid film, but its beautiful visuals and mood-setting are what carry it. There are moments of brutal violence, but they happen few and far between. The film is more focused on creating an atmosphere than being a haven for bloodshed. That being said, some of those scenes are exceptionally well done and slightly reminiscent of films like I Saw The Devil. Unfortunately, Soul makes the mistake of trying to infuse humor all throughout the film, and it ended up hurting the movie greatly for me. It is an affecting and gorgeous looking film that misses the mark of being something truly exceptional.
Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.