Soul



Reviewed by YTSL

This 1986 Hsu Feng and John Shum co-production opens with a woman (Deannie Yip’s main character is variously known as Mrs. Lee, Yip Cheung and Girl Girl) and a man (David Chiang plays Detective Inspector Lee Kai Yeung) having sex in between waking up and having breakfasts.  Before the film had reached its ten minute mark, he is seen falling to his death from a high place in his home police station.  In the ten minutes that follows, she:  Witnesses the death of a Taiwanese woman (who she had been previously chatting with about good hairdressers and schools); belatedly finds out that the Mandarin speaking female was her spouse’s mistress; also learns -- from a grim-faced colleague of his -- about her late husband being suspected of corruption; gets asked to take care of “the other woman”’s now orphaned three and half year old son; goes home to find out that the Filipino maid has absconded with her boyfriend (and trashed the place before doing so); plus has to deal with the electricity supply to her living space suddenly getting cut (due to the Filipino maid not having paid the bill, despite her employer having thrice directed her to do so).

Deannie Yip and David Chiang
If nothing else, the first quarter of this work looked to be director Shu Kei’s very accurate capturing on celluloid of a(n upper-)middle Hong Kong married woman’s nightmare!  Something else that I reckon that he effectively accomplishes in the early section is the providing of viewers with an accurate taste of the surprising and eventful nature of an offering which nonetheless is actually neither very fast paced nor in possession of a storyline that’s at all hard to follow.  When it is taken as a whole, I do believe that the movie’s scriptwriter as well as helmer was definitely successful in his bid to make a multi-genre offering that turned out to be about equal parts thriller, melodrama, comedy and women’s film plus was “structured...so people could not tell what would happen next” (This and subsequent quotes were culled from the SOUL portion of the Shu Kei interview in Miles Wood’s 1998 “Cine East: Hong Kong Cinema Through the Looking Glass”).

Perhaps those who have viewed John Cassavete’s “Gloria” will be more able to predict the path that this film -- which Shu Kei stated he had been very much inspired by -- follows.  Since I have not done so, I can’t say whether it actually does.  However, I find it hard to believe that there actually exists another movie in which one individual is killed by being hit on the head by a sausage and another dies in part because of a champagne bucket’s worth of ice getting thrown on him (And yes, I do actually think as well as sincerely hope that these events -- along with a few others plus certain rich little details -- speak to SOUL’s having a black comedic vein running through much of it)!

Jacky Cheung, Deannie and Dennis Chan
It also seems to be beyond doubt that Deannie Yip is as much the heart as well as central figure of SOUL as Gena Rowlands was in the 1980 Hollywood production.  Shu Kei is on the record too as saying that -- in a manner not unlike with “Hu-Du-Men” and Josephine Siao -- the major impetus for his deciding to make this offering was because he had great admiration for this veteran actress and wanted to work with her.  Although she is not the female who comes off as the most striking and glamorous looking of all who appear in this Christopher Doyle lensed work (this honor falls instead to Elaine Kam, who plays Girl Girl’s friend, Gi Gi), Ms. Yip’s certainly is the film’s most interesting and complex as well as primary character.
Elaine Kam and Deannie
The individual who probably gets the second largest amount of attention in SOUL is Loong Loong -- the little kid who I initially wished that Girl Girl would either lose or abandon but did come to appreciate the further along into the film that I went.  And while he initially appeared to be but a lackey to Dennis Chan’s serious-looking but bumbling-acting Wai Wai, Jacky Cheung (the name of a character as well as the actor who played him) did turn out to have some depth and a nice side.  However, I expected far greater things of Boy Boy -- the saxophonist seen as Girl Girl’s soul-mate -- and not just because he came in the form of the great Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao Hsien (Yes, really, re the director of such as “Dust in the Wind”, “A City of Sadness”, “The Puppetmaster” and “Flowers of Shanghai” making an appearance in a Hong Kong movie).  Instead, his part in the production seemed but an extended version of Manfred Wong and Alfred Cheung’s cameo roles (as an insurance agent and ticket booth attendant, respectively).
Deannie, Jacky and Hou Hsiao Hsien
Much as I appreciate what Shu Kei tried to do with SOUL (i.e., react against overly formulaic filmmaking), I can see why the film flopped at the local box office.  Especially when compared with “Peking Opera Blues”, “100 Ways to Murder Your Wife” and “Passion” (three other works released in 1986 that are creative in their own ways plus were bigger commercial and/or critical hits), it could have been more tightly edited and not so loosely structured.  There also is a restrained feel to the production that makes it so that its viewers are likely to chuckle rather than laugh at some of its proceedings and wryly or wanly smile rather than feel truly saddened about certain other occurrences that take place over the course of it.  Still, my sense is that upon viewing this early cinematic offering of his, some more people will add themselves to the list of Hong Kong film fans who wish that the individual who I’ve actually seen manning the cash register of his book cum video store would spend more time and effort making -- rather than reviewing and selling home video copies of -- movies.

My rating for this film:  7.