Soul – Putting Your Life On Hold

Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Drama
Director: Shu Kei
Year: 1986

Rating: ★★★½☆


Poor Ip Cheung (Deanie Yip). Her husband, a police captain, is a pig who either uses her as a kleenex or ignores whatever she might have to say. Worse yet, it turns out he’s corrupt and the next thing you know, triad gunsels are after her to retrieve an incriminating ledger she knows nothing about. Along the way, Ip Cheung gets stuck taking care of a horribly spoiled child, the son of her husband’s mistress. The cops as usual are useless. Isn’t life grand?

Now, if this sounds like a Hong Kong version of the Gena Rowlands showcase, Gloria, you’re on the right track.

Despite the synopsis, this isn’t the usual run and gun, heavily stylized Hong Kong gangster flick. The triad types, instead of being cruel, ruthless, and invincible, are almost as scared as their targets, and cowardly to boot. One gunsel dies of internal cranial bleeding after being hit over the head with a sausage. Yep, that’s right.

There’s no bullet ballet, leaping about firing guns in both hands stuff.

The camera movements are stately and elegant. The performances are in a realistic register. In between the margins, much is said about life in Hong Kong; how people with money treat servants, the role of women, civic responsibility, and more. Writer/director Shu Kei takes his time with the plot, but I welcomed the digressions, which added much texture and meaning to the picture.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot than I have because that’s part of the fun of Soul, but I will say that the movie turns out to be about second chances, and about settling for less than what you could have gotten.

Other than Deanie Yip, who is an acting powerhouse in her role, several other actors impressed me: Jacky Cheung scores as a wet behind the ears triad hanger on; Dennis Chan was terrific as a panicky and less than competent triad soldier; David Chiang is surprisingly effective as Ip Cheung’s piggish husband.

For fans of Taiwanese art house director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, here’s your chance to catch him on the other side of the camera.

Soul is that rarest of Hong Kong beasts, an effective drama with zero martial arts or stunts and only a small amount of violence.

I was so impressed by writer/director Shu Kei, I’m going to seek out his other films.

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