“Savior of the Soul”, made in 1991, is the epitome of Hong Kong action cinema cranked out during that particular era. The modus operandi of films in this category involves juvenile high jinks in the name of comedy and hyperbolic swordplay in the name of action. It’s all done with a wink and a nod, but at the same time it thinks nothing about throwing in a few dozen decapitated heads and cleaved bodies. Welcome to 1990s Hong Kong Cinema!
Being that the film is written by Wong Kar-wai, the man nearly singlehandedly responsible for bringing newfound respect to Hong Kong Cinema as a viable art form (see “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love”), you would expect more from “Savior of the Soul.” What we get is a standard 1990s Hong Kong action fare about a man name Silver Fox (Aaron Kwok) whose sole reason to exist is to exact revenge on May (Anita Mui), some sort of cop in a some sort of weirdo parallel Hong Kong (I think). May was responsible for bringing Silver Fox’s criminal master to justice, resulting in Silver Fox rescuing, and then shooting, his boss with, er, explosive bullets?
Being that nearly 90% of all Hong Kong martial arts movies are based on the premise of, “You killed my master, now I must kill you!”, Silver Fox’s singular motivation isn’t much of a stretch. What is a bit of a stretch is the comedic premise of “Savior”, which invariably involves misunderstandings, unrequited love, and silly motivations all aimed at achieving the type of romance only children under 10 can possibly relate to.
There is really not much of acting going on in “Savior”, and star Andy Lau (“Running Out of Time”) proves that he’s been overacting longer than I’ve been watching Hong Kong movies. As the leading man, Lau provides the bulk of the comedy and the action, while poor Anita Mui (“Enforcer”) seems to be hopelessly lost as the object of Lau’s affections and Silver Fox’s blood vengeance. Which is to say, if you were looking for believable acting from “Savior of the Soul”, you’re hopelessly in the wrong place.
That isn’t to say the comedy in “Savior” is not good, it’s just a little silly and takes a lot of getting used to. Fortunately I am used to this sort of lowbrow, high-energy comedy, and was able to appreciate a lot of Andy Lau’s stunts, if not all of them. The Superman impression toward the end is a keeper, but of course the filmmakers had to foul what was turning out to be a riotously funny fight-to-the-finish into a melodramatic mess. Leave it to Hong Kong directors to try to squeeze every little bit of melodrama they can from the ol’ Hong Kong standby of hero-having-to-fight-his-loved-one clich’.
As the villain, Aaron Kwok has gone on to do much better work in films like “2000 A.D.” and even the average “China Strike Force”. Kwok is mostly here to break up the film’s gradually declining sense of comedy, starting with a trivialized love triangle between leads Mui, Lau and co-star Kenny Bee, then continuing on with a love rectangle (?) between leads Mui, Lau, co-star Gloria Yip, playing Kenny Bee’s sister, and co-star Carina Lau playing, er, the Pet Lady. Yes, I know, it’s not the stuff legendary Romantic Comedy films are made off, but then not much produced in Hong Kong around the early 1990s would exactly qualify as legendary, unless you were talking about legendarily infamous.
Sometimes in these types of films you can count on the action to be at least worthwhile. “Savior” has quite a bit of action, but they’re all of the uninspired variety. You have the usual magical powers deal, the burgeoning use of special effects, and that whole over-the-top violence thing. At one point, Silver Fox breaks a bathroom stall door apart and uses chunks of it to stab a victim through the gut. Oh, and Silver Fox also gets an exploding dagger to the eye, although for some reason the dagger didn’t explode this time.
You have to really like 1990s Hong Kong Action Cinema to fully appreciate “Savior of the Soul” because it’s everything films of that period are known for, and not much else. For more films in this category, see “New Dragon Inn” and “High Risk”, just to name two.
David Lai, Corey Yuen (director) / Jeffrey Lau, Kar Wai Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Andy Lau….Ching
Anita Mui….Yiu May-kwan
Aaron Kwok….Silver Fox
Kenny Bee….Siu Chuen