Soul Mate (七月与安生)(2016)

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One of the ways I know a film is good enough for me to find the best words to adorn it is the feel of it the morning after. A good film should be a full emotional experience that we would find it difficult to let go off. It should create a warm hold on our feelings because through the course of the film we have unknowingly become a member of a family. Last night, we lived a lifetime with Qiyue and Ansheng.

30 year-old working woman Li Ansheng’s (Zhou Dongyu) life in Shanghai is suddenly disrupted by the publication of a novel, entitled “Qiyue and Ansheng”, a chronicle of her friendship with Qi Yue (Ma Sichun) during her youth. Coupled with an accidental encounter with Su Jia-Ming (Toby Lee), a past love, her long repressed memories are unleashed with the force of a tsunami – the two girls seemed destined to become friends from the moment they entered high school. Though they were inseparable and believed that their bond would last for the rest of their lives, the cruelty of youth eventually led them to separate paths. Even more shocking is the discovery of a long buried secret shared by the women – a secret that serves as an emblem of their youth and the proof of their friendship.

The story couldn’t be more cloying and overly familiar. Stories like this come a dime in a dozen, but this one is buoyed by the sured hands of debut director Derek Tsang (the son of screen veteran Eric Tsang), an inspired adapted screenplay, crisp editing, superb cinematography, a great soundtrack, and an outstanding sense of place and time. However, all these are naught if it doesn’t get the casting right and right it so marvellously did. In the course of Qiyue and Ansheng’s story, it is difficult to see any other actresses play their roles. Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun are born to play the roles and all the other parts they had played prior to this are just rehearsals for this. These are career defining roles and from this moment onwards, whether who will win the Golden Horse Award doesn’t matter, because their stars are going supernova. This film lives or dies at the hands of these two actresses and both of them made it soar higher than it would want to admit.

IMHO the key to the film’s structure is not about their relationship but how it lulls us into feeling it is about a relationship between us and both the girls. Who wouldn’t want to have a soul mate like how it is depicted, not wishy washy with quick superficial emotions, but heart-wrenchingly hurtful and yet forgivingly embracing – 我恨过你,但我也只有你. Their character arcs are superbly rendered with an awesome twist that felt totally earned. For me, the experience plays more like a spiritual experience than like a movie, maybe because I love deep friendships like this that I know can’t happen.

Feted with seven Golden Horse nominations, including nominations for both actresses, director, screenplay, make-up, song and editing, my money would be on Zhou Dongyu for a heartfelt performance. Her dismissive laugh hides a soul in turmoil so beautifully. But thankfully both actresses won the coveted acting awards, which is unprecedented.

My affection for good films usually grows with familiarity, as it does with music and literature. That’s why I can watch a good film again and again and relive the same experience without any dilution in intensity. I have a feeling that Soul Mate has found itself in this category.

4 / 5

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