I was going to skip this one, to be quite honest; I've seen enough Asian imports that look back a decade or two to show how some attractive people got to where they are today - often left kind of nebulous - that I figured there wouldn't be much point to seeing one more. Funny thing, though - the distributor, Cheng Cheng, kept retweeting good reviews, and while that's what distributors are supposed to do on social media, it was a bit more than I was used to seeing for this sort of movie, and a couple of the folks I followed were enthusiastic about it as well. So, though I was going to use Tuesday night to catch up on two 3D movies on discount day, I gave this one a shot, even though I barely got there from work on time.
And, yeah, I loved it in the way you really only love something that turns out to be more clever than you expected, almost like there's a rush of blood to the head because an unexpected part of the brain has been stimulated. Soul Mate may not actually be a terrific movie, but it's a very good one, and in a way that is not often expected out of this sort of very mainstream film.
It's good enough, in fact, that I'm kind of bummed that "should I go see it?" reviews are kind of the default, because I strongly suspect that when two people have seen the movie talk about it, they don't speak in vague generalities, because it's what the film does specifically that makes it great. But, on the other hand, very few people reading English-language reviews will have seen it. I'm really hoping that this actually gets a reasonably visible DVD/BD release in America, or at least some prominent streaming, because if I were still in Chlotrudis, it would probably be my Buried Treasure nomination.
It is still playing in Boston for one more day, although it gives up its prime-time screening for previews on Thursday night. If you can, get to it, and then maybe chat in the comments a bit.
Qi Yue Yu An Sheng (Soul Mate)
* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 October 2016 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)
Describe the plot of Soulmate and it sounds like every third Chinese movie that has made its way across the Pacific over the last few years, a nostalgia-laden series of coming-of-age flashbacks that take an ironic route to a parallel narrative of the same characters as adults. This particular take on it doesn't exactly reinvent the concept, in that there aren't many pieces to it that haven't been used in similar films already, but it fits those pieces together exceptionally well, to the point where something that one might expect to be rote manages constant surprises.
It starts in the late 1990s, when 13-year-olds "July" Lin Qiuye and Li Ansen become fast, inseparable friends, with Ansen a frequent guest of July's welcoming family. They remain best friends as teenagers, although July (Sandra Ma Si-chun) is accepted into the area's top high school while the more rebellious Ansen (Zhou Dongyu) goes to a vocational institute. July soon falls for a boy, Su Jia-ming (Toby Lee Ching-ban); Ansen's immediate reaction is to see this person potentially coming between them as a threat, but when she goes to warn him not to hurt July, there's a palpable chemistry between the two - something that will make good fodder for the serial novel based on the girls' lives being released online in the present day.
That novel will run about seven or eight chapters, and the first big surprise is that the expected blow-up happens at the end of chapter two, during a farewell made on a train platform as Ansen goes to join her musician boyfriend in Beijing. It's a bit that everyone who has ever gone to a movie has seen, to the point where Ansen warns July not to run after the train, a comment that serves as something of a gauntlet that the writers throw down to director Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung and the cast. They earn the shots of July running after the train, though, and the scene climaxes on shots of the pair that emphasize the best and worst of each of them, how their friendship may be ripe for abuse, and may make the ways they hurt each other that much worse, but also suggests something that it may not be possible to sever.
Full review on EFC.