Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas all labored to define the
soul. Unfortunately, their scholarship
will be of little practical use to Old Wang.
Rather instinctively, he protects his son A-chuan’s body, so it will be
available for his soul to re-enter. Just
who or what is currently inhabiting that vessel is one of the great mysteries
of Chung Mong-hong’s Soul (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s edition of the San Francisco Film Society’s Taiwan Film Days.
works as an assistant cook in a Taipei sushi restaurant—or at least he did
until he passed out at work. With the
help of two co-workers, his sister Hsiao Yun shuttles him back to their father’s
rustic mountain home, where the old man raises orchids and apples. Beyond mere sickness, A-chuan does not seem
to be himself. Suspecting something is
profoundly wrong, Hsiao Yun starts to raise her reservations to Old Wang, only
to be murdered by A-chuan (or rather A-chuan’s body) shortly thereafter.
this point, Old Wang springs into full cover-up mood, locking A-chuan (or
whoever) into his utility shed. Soon he
and the whatever are speaking openly of the situation. Supposedly he/it moved in when A-chuan
temporarily vacated his body. He cannot really say why A-chuan left, but Old
Wang eventually concludes it all has something to do with some painful family
history. Regardless, he is willing to
dispatch whomever he must to keep this incident under wraps.
he protecting A-chuan’s bodily interests or the new soul, whom he comes to know
rather well? That is one of the rich ambiguities of Soul. It features a good
deal of traditional genre trappings and a massively atmospheric setting, but it
is hard to define it in pat terms. However, all cult film fans need to know is
Jimmy Wong of One-Armed Swordsman fame
stars as the conflicted Old Wang.
perfectly matches the film’s subtly and understatement, keeping the audience
completely off-balance yet totally invested in the domestic horrors his
character is caught up in. Likewise, Joseph Chang’s quiet turn as A-chuan (and
his possessor) stealthily sneaks up on you.
Vincent Liang also thoroughly subverts and surpasses expectations as
Little Wu, A-chuan’s former schoolmate now working as put-upon patrolman.
Soul is an
unflaggingly naturalistic yet unusually philosophical film. Taut rather than terrifying, Chung maintains
a pace that is patient but never pokey.
Serving as his own cinematographer under the open pseudonym of Nakashima
Nagao, he captures some striking images of the dark, verdant woods, creating a
vivid sense of place.
is an accomplished film and a timely selection, given the fact Taiwan has
officially chosen it as its Foreign Language Oscar submission. On paper it does not sound like a good fit for
the Academy’s tastes and preferences, but who knows? Frankly, Soul
could be thought as the sort of film Uncle Boonmee was supposed to be but fell short of. Eerie and engrossing, Soul is recommended for fans of headier genre fare when it screens
this Saturday (11/2) at the Vogue Theatre as part of the SFFS’s Taiwan Film
Labels: Jimmy Wong, Taiwan Film Days '13, Taiwanese Cinema