I had no real idea what to expect from the film when sitting down to watch it, however Soul soon began to absorb me. There is the strangeness of what is happening to the son (Joseph Chang) I liked the casual coldness of the way he describes what has happened: He left, I took his body and Au-chuan will be gone for a long time, or dismissing the murder of the daughter I felt she threatened me. Not to mention how the father is rapidly wound into a situation that comes with a Hitchcockian series of twists and complicities he finds the son has killed the daughter and tries to hide the body just as a police officer friend turns up at the door; he then has the daughters husband come looking for her and call her cellphone only to hear it start ringing in the middle of the orchard. The films location an orchid orchard on a mountainside that is only accessible via a small cable car is an unusual setting. The cinematographer depicts this with an exceptional beauty and there are some stunning shots looking down from the mountain or across the mist-covered orchard.
The possession plot (of sorts) is one handled in no way that we have seen before rather than the son acting sinister, mouthing obscenities and developing facial disfigurements as you would get in an English language possession film, the possession here seems more like an astral projection story where the sons soul went wandering and someone else found the body empty and came and occupied it. Some of the most intensely mysterious scenes in the film are those that involve a cryptic character referred to as The Messenger who comes to deliver messages from the real Au-chuan and leads the new inhabiting soul to a well in the woods to find Au-chuan in a dream. The mix of possession plot and mundane murder mystery create an intensely fascinating film. In particular, the old man Jimmy Wang gives an excellent performance, playing the part in a feeble way that rarely lets his impassive face betray any emotion, except for tiny leaks through the eyes and in his passive nods.
Chung Mong-hong builds the film up extremely well, although Soul falters when it comes to its third act. This would be best demonstrated by thinking of how it would work as a US film the nearest point of comparison would be Insidious (2010) and Insidious Chapter 2 (2013). A US film would regard the other souls inhabitance of the sons body as an issue of great horror as per most of the plot of Insidious Chapter 2. The latter half of such a film would be filled with a struggle to rescue the sons soul along the lines of the climax of Insidious, while we almost certainly would have been given some backstory about who the new soul inhabiting the body is, something this film never does (the inhabitant doesnt even gets a name). Instead, Soul seems to forget about its soul predation plot after a certain point. (Indeed, there at times when we are led to think there may not even be a possession going on and that everything can be explained as mental illness on the sons part). The end of the film comes [PLOT SPOILERS] in terms of a thriller resolution with dead bodies everywhere before the father admits guilt for the murders and is sentenced to a psychiatric facility. Rather than any horror movie resolution, the other soul is left in command of the sons body and there is an extended epilogue where the son goes to meet the father in the asylum and the feeling is one of reconciliation between estranged father and son.
(Winner for Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 2013 Awards).
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)