Length: 125 minutes
Director: Song Haolin, Yi Liqi
Cast: Li Xian, Chen Li-nung
Language: Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
Release date: 10 December 2020 (Singapore)
3 out of 5 stars
Soul Snatcher follows the story of a scholar Wang Zijin (Chen Li-nung) and a young fox demon Bai Shisan (Li Xian). The unlikely duo builds up their friendship as they become travel companions — Zijin is on his way to the capital for the civil examinations, while Shisan is looking for the soul bead which will grant him immortality. Their bond is put to the test when Zijin realises the soul bead Shisan has been looking for resides in his body and can only be obtained upon his death. Torn between achieving immortality and his best friend, Shisan is forced to make a painful choice.
From the producer of action-fantasy Monster Hunt, Soul Snatcher opens with a cute but touching scene of a little red fox clinging onto the brink of a cliff. Seeing that the fox is about to fall to its death, a young kid pulls it up to safety but accidentally slips off the cliff. The fox wants to help the kid but his sharp claws scratch his hand instead. Sadly, the kid loses his grip and plunges down the cliff. The fox hurries down to his motionless body with watery eyes, and a teardrop lands onto the wound on the kid’s hand. Apart from the computer-generated fox being super adorable, this seemingly random and innocent scene turns out to be a crucial part of the story.
The fantasy plot is also intertwined with hilarious episodes, mostly slapstick comedy. For instance, Zijin and Shisan encounter revolving doors as they try to escape from zombies (as in the Chinese kind, not the Western type). But in the midst of hastily running about through the doors, Shisan ends up holding not the hands of Zijin, but a zombie’s. In another scene, Shisan is swallowed by a frog demon and is blasted out of its mouth hitting the wall like an arrow to the bullseye. Yes, as corny as it sounds, it actually works to jack up the laughter.
It’s a pity that the plot is as messy as it can be. If we zoom out to see the bigger picture, the plot can be split into four parts: the funny frog demon arc; the random brothel arc which introduces a vengeful female ghost as the love obsession of Zijin; the civil examinations arc that expands on the sub-plot of Zijin trying to find a missing person, which feels like the climax but isn’t; and the grand battle in which I think they are trying to do a plot twist by introducing an antagonist — yes, a sudden mighty antagonist towards the end of the movie.
Soul Snatcher just feels like it is trying to accomplish too many things given the relatively short time frame of a movie. It would have been a lot better if it did not have too many side characters and kept its plot straightforward. The way it has been structured seems to be like a poorly condensed version of a television drama, which means it would have done better as a television drama spanning a few episodes.
That being said, Soul Snatcher is still an entertaining film to watch, which touches on personal ideals and values, and the strength of friendship.