biggest problem with Kwang-chun Park's "Soul Guardians" is that
there is a feeling that the filmmakers are not entirely sure about
the kind of movie they wanted to make and what sort of themes or
statements they wanted to express. The result is a film that looks
familiar, but is hopelessly muddled when it comes to having a "core"
center from which to hang its actions on.
opens with the police storming a building filled with practitioners
of a cult that seeks to resurrect Satan; by the time the cops
arrive, everyone has committed suicide except for 5 people and a
young woman about to be sacrificed. The woman is pregnant and rushed
to the hospital, where she gives birth to Seung-hie (Sang Mi Chu)
before dying. Flash-forward 20 years, and Seung-hie is now a
mechanic living a normal life – that is, until people start dying
around her. The victims all have one thing in common: they were
former members of the cult and survived the mass suicide 20 years
earlier. With her life on the line and the Devil seeking to
resurrect through her, Seung-hie must rely on a mysterious stranger,
a fallen priest, and a young boy with powers for salvation…
"Soul Guardians" shows up in 1998,
two years before the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle "End of Days",
which has a similar premise. The two films have a lot of
similarities, including the usage of Western religion (Catholicism
is the primary foundation for the two films' "resurrect the Devil"
plot), a young woman who is supposed to be the vehicle for the
Devil's return to Earth, and the presence of a priest that knows the
hows, whens, and whatnot.
To be honest, I'm not entirely
sure how I feel about "Soul Guardians." The storytelling is
sometimes sketchy at best, ineptly executed at worst. Director
Kwang-chun Park has a bad habit of jumping from one sequence to
another without much prelude or build up, and much of the
screenplay's second half reeks of lazy writing. For instance, after
a reporter shows up at his safe house, the priest blabs about the
"true story" and reveals way too much, even though the reporter
didn't ask about those things. The result? The reporter leaves,
only to return with the cops. Ever heard of "No comment"?
The film also focuses on the wrong
characters. Upfront is the lovely Sang Mi Chu ("Say
Yes") as the damsel-in-distress (and really, that's all she is
throughout the film) and Hyun-joon Shin ("Bichunmoo")
as her knight in shining armor (complete with a knife that has a
soul of its own, natch). South Korean film veteran Sung-kee Ahn ("Musa")
has a secondary role as the fallen priest, and it's actually the
relationship between Ahn's priest and young Hyun-chul Oh's Jun-ho
that is most interesting. I wanted to know more about the
superpowered Jun-ho, who seems to have all the answers despite being
just a young boy and addicted to videogames. How did he come about?
Why did he join the priest? Where does he get his powers? Or possess
his knowledge of the occult? None of these questions were ever
The screenplay also provides some
mixed messages and proves to be just as confused as the director
about what it wants to achieve. The film relies on a lot of
Catholicism for its premise, but strangely throws in some Eastern
mythology involving blessed papers (with charms written on them)
that can defend against evil spirits, etc. The whole "holy paper"
stuff is most prominent in Hong Kong ghost stories and I found the
merging of the two religious icons to be slightly off-kilter.
"Soul Guardians" has a number of
interesting scenes, but everything from the direction to the story
is much too erratic. For instance, Shin's Hyun-am seems able to
summon superpowers at will on some occasions, but not on others.
Despite an interesting performance by Hyung-joon Shin and the
presence of the visually pleasing Sang Mi Chu, I'm afraid "Soul
Guardians" is just too unfocused and unclear for its own good.