[VFF2018] Defining Joy, not July, in Soulmate (七月与安生) — A Movie Review

4 Feb

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Plays at Victoria Film Festival 2018
Wed | February 7 | 9:15 PM | Capitol 6
Purchase tickets here.

In North American terms Lin (Lin “July” Qiyue in the subtitles, played by Ma Sichun) and Anshen (Ansheng, Zhou Dongyu) are BFFs. In Chinese terms, they are Soul Mates (七月与安生) — also the title of this movie. Technically, the kanji spells out their names as the title of the film. As they come of age and become adults, their bond never fell apart, and this fact highlights this drama.

However, the plot needs a conflict to show what can happen which could potentially split them apart. When Chen Jia Ming (Tobey Lee) enters into their lives, one is the hopeless romantic and the other, respecting her ‘sister,’ does not even try. There’s no cat fight as this movie is more about their personal bond than their interest in Ming. These two beautiful actresses are rising stars from Mainland China and their sisterhood shines very brightly here. I can’t wait to see Dongyu in Tsui Hark’s The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (奇門遁甲), a fantasy – science fiction film. Well Go Entertainment released this title to limited markets in December and I hope a video release is coming soon!

Fortunately, like other Chinese genre films, this treatment is not too cliché. It’s an examination of these two ladies lives first, a sisterhood which really developed when Anshen was welcomed to Lin’s family, and a Shakespearean level tragedy second. To keep a male viewer like me engaged is a miracle in itself. The cinematic look at modern Shanghai is a highlight. When it visits the backstreets, it made me wish my visit there was not so brief. Between the tourist sector and every day, there’s drama to be heard no matter where I went. My Mandarin is not up to snuff but my Cantonese, I was feeling like a foreigner.

The two ladies are just as unique when representing extremes. As children, Lin’s passive innocence never gets in the way if Anshen’s rambunctiousness. Her adventuresome spirit is a stark contrast when compared to Lin’s decision to conform. I find myself attracted to Anshen’s punk looks. She speaks for a generation who are anti-establishment. Yes, this rebellious attitude towards the social norm exists even in Communist China, and I enjoy the fact this film shows there are people from this country who are not settling down (yet).

Interestingly, the boyfriend’s role as the Deus ex Machina is not always important. I’m amused that it’s possible for old friends to run into each other in a hugely populated city such as Beijing or Shanghai. It’s a small world. While Jin plays a tiny role, the encompassing one of Anshen reading their fictionalized life story is more important. As for how this book closes is one left to interpretation much like how The Dark Knight trilogy finished. All I can say is bring a box of tissues.

4 Stars out of 5

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