Soul (Taiwan, 2013) [NYAFF 2014]
Written and directed by Chung Mong-hong, Soul is a film which, at its core, is about family bonds cloaked in a psychological thriller/horror movie. The film stars legendary kung fu actor Jimmy Wong, known for such movies as The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), Flying Fists of Death (1972), and Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976).
A-chuan (Joseph Chang) is a young chef who inexplicably collapses at work. Doctors can find nothing wrong and send him back home to stay with his estranged father Wang (Jimmy Wong) at his orchid farm in the mountains. A-chuan appears indifferent to everything around him, including his father and married sister Yun (Chen Shiang-chyi), who has come for a few days to help care for him. Wang returns to his home one night to find his dead daughter lying in a pool of blood. A-chuan has killed his sister and Wang covers up the crime to protect his son. When Wang decides to confront his son, A-chuan tells the old man, rather coldly, that he found “this body” after the soul had gone. The entity residing in A-chuan’s body is not Wang’s son, but a demon. Wang drugs the young man and locks him in a shed on the property, but he cannot stop the death and damage caused by the possessed A-chuan.
As the story progresses, family secrets are revealed and the film focuses more on the strained relationship between Wang and his son. We also see Wang, and at times A-chuan, attempting to repair that relationship. The demon is visited by a messenger when he decides to help the old man. Eventually Wang is able to fully protect A-chuan, although we’re never quite sure if the young man’s soul has returned or if he is still possessed.
The film is beautifully shot (Chung does double duty as cinematographer) with the mist-shrouded mountain acting as a metaphor for both the family secrets and murky relationship between father and son. Yun is not in the film long, but her brief appearance is a rather powerful one, recognizing that her brother is not himself, and her death becoming the catalyst for the rest of the film. A-chuan remains impassive and Wang is stoic, with neither man showing any emotion, although their feelings remain palpable. It is heartbreaking to watch Wang attempt to protect the demon who has taken over A-chuan’s body in the hope that his son will return.
Soul’s horror aspects are subtle, although the killings we see are quite gruesome and satisfying for horror fans. There were a few scenes I found tedious, but not so bad that it took anything away from my enjoyment of the film.
Soul is showing on July 5 and July 9 at the Walter Reade Theater. The full schedule for NYAFF 2014 can be found here.