Film review: Soul Mate – Zhou Dongyu, Ma Sichun excel in friendship drama

Actresses who co-star as best friends who fall for the same handsome young man deliver performances full of emotion, making the first solo directorial effort of Hong Kong’s Derek Tsang a minor masterpiece

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 5:56pm

4/5 stars

I didn’t expect to be won over so completely by Soul Mate – even if it came feted with seven nominations in next month’s Golden Horse Awards. While Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung’s first directorial outing (alongside Jimmy Wan Chi-man), Lover’s Discourse (2010), showed his penchant for nuanced acting, his second (again with Wan), Lacuna (2012), was forgettable, and his solo contribution to the recent omnibus feature Good Take! was a horror short that’s more sensational than scary.

I initially wondered if Soul Mate, whose Chinese title translates as July and Ansen, was a mere imitator of Hana and Alice (2004), Shunji Iwai’s female-centric drama based around a teenage love triangle. But Tsang’s film, adapted from a novella by Chinese author Qing Shan and produced by Peter Chan Ho-sun, turns out to be a minor masterpiece in its own right, transcending its potentially cloying premise to tell a story of friendship and love that’s at once melancholy and very emotional.

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The director has to thank his actresses Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun, who imbue this drama with skilful displays of raw emotion. The story is simple enough: best friends since they were 13 years old, the profound mutual affection of free-spirited Ansen (Zhou) and pragmatic July (Ma) is severely tested when they both fall for the handsome Jiaming (Toby Lee) at age 18. As they drift in and out of each other’s lives in the following decade, the two young women begin to develop a renewed appreciation for their friendship.

It is an exquisite reversal – and a heart-warming irony – that through the recurrent sacrifices and concessions that they make to preserve the bond between them, Ansen and July assume each other’s lifestyle and philosophy, as changes around them lead them to discover unfamiliar sides of themselves. The gorgeous cinematography and soundtrack provide another plus, although there’s no arguing that Soul Mate lives by its female leads’ excellent performances.

Soul Mate opens on October 27

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