Film Review: SoulMate

A rare big-budget Chinese film predicated more on romantic emotions than martial-arts hoopla has already attracted huge audiences abroad and may well capture stateside viewers’ imaginations.
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Based on the popular serialized web novel by Li Jie (aka Anni Baobei), SoulMate focuses on the bond between two girls, wild and crazy Li Ansheng (Zhou Dongyu) and the more conservative and disciplined Lin Qiyue (Ma Sichun), best mates since they were 13. However, when a man—Su Jia-ming (Toby Lee)—appears with whom they both fall in love, their friendship is pushed to its boundaries and beyond.

Making an impressive solo directorial debut, Derek Tsang has fashioned an eye-filling, old-fashioned contemplation of same-sex love here, more romantic than ten Notebooks thrown together (with way more weeping too). Quiveringly narrated by July, who lends heavy, love-infused portent to her every line as the older Lin, each tiny detail of the girls’ lifelong intimacy is gone into with an almost voyeuristic intensity. The movie is filled with big, impressive set-pieces, which almost seem modern-China-style bent on outdoing anything Hollywood has attempted in the past. The famous Lee Garmes-photographed train farewell scene in Since You Went Away has nothing on the tear-stained orgy of one farewell moment. Helping things out considerably is the fact that the film is utterly gorgeous to look at, lensed by the great Jake Pollock and Jing-Ping Yu, with maybe a nod or two in the direction of Amélie. An insanely lush music score, while intrusive at moments, admittedly does help sweep the viewer into romantic submission, and a flurry of plot twists at the end lift it from sentimental bathos.

The breakout star in the cast is Zhou, who with her exquisitely carved Vivien Leigh features and fiery joie de vivre immediately engages you. Ma is less exciting, with a slightly bovine quality, but her chemistry with her deathless onscreen inamorata feels real in the extreme. While Lee may have the male-mannequin handsomeness now de rigueur for Asian film stars, his personality and acting unfortunately have a matching blandness. Luckily, the power of both of his onscreen beloveds is more than sufficient to carry the emotional weight of this five-hankie weeper.

Click here for cast and crew information.