Directed by Zhang Yang
I’ve always admired the way that Beijing-born filmmaker Zhang Yang handles a story. The gentle “Shower”, his first and major hit, saw the daylight in 1999, but other compelling dramas succeeded, brimming with sufficient points of interest to deserve approval, namely, “Sunflower” and “Getting Home”.
His epic and subliminal revenge tale, “Soul On a String”, adapted from two novels by Tibetan writer Tashi Dawa, may feel excessively contemplative in some passages but it’s also smartly written, marvelously photographed, and sagaciously detailed.
Rooted in ancient tradition, the storyline revolves around Tabei (Kimba), a sinful man who was entrusted with a special mission after finding a precious Tibetan stone in the mouth of a deer. Blessed by a sapient monk, Tabei sets off to the Buddha’s sacred Palm Print Mountain, where the stone has to be returned. The arduous journey works also as an opportunity for a soul cleanse, as well as to bring his life to a right path.
After a one-night stand with the solitary and obstinate Chung (Quni Ciren), the traveler will have her company for the trip, even if he doesn't want to. Later, a homeless dumb kid, whom they name Pu (Yizi Danzeng), joins them on the adventure. In truth, he becomes extremely useful with his psychic powers and keen sense of orientation. Chung is the one to be happy with his presence since she's more adept of children than swords.
Crossing amazing landscapes to avoid the insecure main roads, the confident Tabei and his friends head north, aware that a few mysterious men keep following them.
One of these men is Gedan (Siano Dudiom Zahi), a shadowy cowboy and writer who searches for answers himself, while the other two, Guori (Zerong Dages) and Kodi (Lei Chen), are two brothers who want to avenge the death of their dad, killed by Tabei’s late father in a duel. The younger brother is so enraged that, for the last ten years, he has been killing every man named Tabei that crossed his path.
The camera, peeking from any possible direction, captures stunning sceneries whose combination of color and light would make a great impressionistic painting. The splendid, ultra-polished widescreen cinematography belongs to Guo Daming, who was also preponderant last year in Yang’s “Paths of the Soul”.
The director, privileging tense generational predicaments over bloodsheds, also infuses a prickly, spot-on humor into his storytelling.
The engaging “Soul On a String” is an unparalleled Buddhist-Western odyssey that effectively earned my attention during its nearly two and a half hours.