“The Soul” is a murder mystery wrapped in medical sci-fi, with a tragic, prosecutor-dying-of-cancer romance/pregnant cop-wife melodrama thrown in for good measure.
It offers up a lot to chew on, but a lot left undigested as well, all served up in a “thriller” that doesn’t really deliver and a mystery that isn’t exactly solved.
A Taiwanese industrialist is ritualistically murdered, with pentangle-like symbols scrawled on walls and doors in his mansion and a vajra club found in his MUCH younger second wife’s (Anke Sun) unconscious hand.
The scene is grisly enough to almost make the first police on the scene faint.
An investigating prosecutor (Chen Chang) gets more bad news from his oncologist, but decides — with his wife (Janine Chun-Ning Chang) pregnant and his next course of treatment promising to be a long shot, to go back to work.
But Liang doesn’t tell his wife, Ah-Bao, of his plans. That’s a problem, because she’s on the job a bit longer during her pregnancy. And she’s a detective who works with him, co-investigators digging into a very convoluted case, interrogating the same suspects.
Whatever is going on with Li-Yan, the widow of the dead man, the house’s extensive closed circuit TV cameras will reveal, right? Only they muddy the waters. Maybe she did it. Something supernatural might be involved.
Or perhaps the dead man’s estranged son and deranged heir (Hui-Min Lin) did it. His body covered in tattoos and his mind warped by the death of his mother, he’s into the same bizarre satanic religion she espoused. He’s got to be the likeliest suspect.
But the story was never going to be that neat and direct. The dead man’s medical company had financed RNA cancer-fighting research, which extended his life until he was clubbed to death. The doctor behind it is sketchy and secretive and played by an actor named “Christopher Lee,” for Pete’s Sake (Christopher Ming-Shun Lee).
This transfer of genetic material experiment, might it pass “souls” from person to person, in addition to removing cancer risks from their DNA/RNA?
There’s a lot of watching sometimes bizarre video recordings, interrogating this or that suspect or maid, and dealing with the manic, over-the-top acting kid, who seems to have motive in addition to an apparently murderous religious fanaticism.
Is the 20 year-old replacement wife in on all this, or merely a pawn?
Meanwhile, the cop/prosecutor couple is having weepy debates about what lies just ahead for them without a miracle, medical or otherwise.
Native Mandarin speakers may get more from this Around the World with Netflix mystery than I did. I found the acting either comically broad or frustratingly under-played.
There’s a little bit of metaphysical debate, about the “living” having to “carry on” with their grief and regrets, while “the dead just get to walk away.”
Perhaps the English subtitles are missing some nuance with that “walking dead” translation.
The forensics are feeble, the couple of blasts of action horrific enough, but the science fiction entirely too clinical and close to current science to generate much interest. And the whiff of supernaturalism is just that, only a whiff.
As ambitious, twisty and soulful as “The Soul” sets out to be, I found it left me cold. And as a whodunit, it’s a little confusing and a tad boring. Not exactly a recipe for a “riveting” 130 minutes of viewing.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, nudity
Cast: Chen Chang, Janine Chun-Ning Chang, Anke Sun, Christopher Ming-Shun Lee and Hui-Min Lin
Credits: Scripted and directed by Wei-hao Cheng, based on a novel by Jiang Bo. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:10