Ching (Andy Lau) and Siu Chuen (Kenny Bee) are law enforcement agents known as City Cops, who are both in love with fellow officer May (Anita Mui). One night, May is visited by a figure from her past – a deadly assassin known as Silver Fox (Aaron Kwok), out to avenge his master whom she once blinded in a duel. In the ensuing fight, Siu Chuen is killed and in order to protect Ching from further attacks by Silver Fox, May disappears, leaving Ching to look after Siu Chuen’s teenage sister Wai Heung (Gloria Yip).
Saviour of the Soul is two parts inventive comic book action to one part schmaltzy romance, and hails from Hong Kong cinema’s golden years, when their film industry was leading the way in stylish genre films unburdened by logic. Directors David Lai and Corey Yuen start as they mean to go on, as supercool villain Silver Fox dispatches a group of prison guards and rescues his ageing master in a blistering opening sequence. Within minutes we have switched to the heroes’ lair for a series of knockabout exchanges between the beautiful May, her two suitors and May’s bitchy sister (also played by Anita Mui) – these scenes are light and funny, and are in stark contrast to the hard-hitting violence of the first scene. And so the film continues, flipping between styles and tone with infectious abandon.
The entire movie was shot on sets, creating an otherworldly, almost theatrical feel – the story frequently makes little sense but seems to cling to its own skewed logic. It was actually written by Wong Kar-Wai, a few years before he made his name as Asian cinema’s leading arthouse auteur, and in keeping with his later work asks way more questions than he answers. When and where is the film set? What are City Cops exactly? (we never see Ching do any work). If May wants to keep a low profile from Ching, why does she decide to live opposite him? And what the hell is a Pet Lady? This latter character – played by Carina Lau – lives in a lavishly adorned temple with a team of foxy assistants. She hosts a kung-fu contest to find a suitable husband; Ching enters, believing it to be his beloved May who is holding the competition, and wins. He is forced to reject the Pet Lady, much to her anger, but inevitably must come to her for help later in the film.
The directors ladle on the melodrama like only Hong Kong filmmakers can. First May breaks Ching’s heart by pretending she doesn’t love him (cue much blubbing from Andy Lau), then Ching breaks young Wai Heung’s heart by failing to notice that she has also fallen for him (cue even more blubbing from Gloria Yip). Most of this is accompanied by some serious overacting and dreary balladry on the soundtrack, and the madcap, cartoonish tone elsewhere means that it’s hard to get that involved in any of the relationships.
But when Saviour of the Soul is good, it’s very good indeed. It was photographed by Peter Pau, one of Hong Kong’s top cinematographers, and he beautifully combines a steely blue sci-fi edge with the often lavish colour of the costumes and sets. And the film is chock full of cool, inventive touches, from the weapons used in the action scenes (‘suffocation bullets’ that drain the air from the room, explosive honing daggers, a yoyo that becomes a huge sword) to great moments like when Silver Fox finds himself trapped inside a mirror during the climatic fight with Ching. And although Andy Lau overdoes it a bit, the late Anita Mui is superb as both May and her sister, switching effortlessly between melancholic drama and bawdy slapstick. Followed by an inferior sequel the following year.
Hong Kong director whose films throughout the eighties and nineties include the Chow Yun-Fat thriller Tragic Hero, supernatural comedy Spiritual Love and the action fantasy Saviour of the Soul and its sequel, both co-directed by Corey Yuen
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.