Saviour of the Soul (1991)

Rating: B+

Dir: Corey Yuen + David Lai
Star: Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Aaron Kwok, Gloria Yip

Anita Mui plays May, an assassin, torn between two lovers. But when Silver Fox (Kwok) comes after her for blinding his master, and kills one of her suitors, she decides the best way to protect the other (Lau) is to leave him. However, Silver Fox’s lust for revenge isn’t over, and the trio are destined to meet up again. First things first: this is probably the best-looking HK film not shot by Christopher Doyle. Kudos (and a herd of kudus too, should he want them) to Peter Pau for creating a magical world, inhabited almost exclusively by the film characters; even at a train station or hospital, extras are sparse, which enhances the weird atmosphere, as does the quiet, generally understated soundtrack. As an evocation of another world, it’s near-perfect.

On the other hand, Wong Kar-Wai’s script doesn’t quite work, cramming in too much. A sub-plot about taking care of the dead lover’s sister goes nowhere at all in the second half, and while May’s bitchy sister (also played by Mui, overacting magnificently) is fun to watch, she doesn’t add much of significance to proceedings either. On the other hand, the Pet Lady (Carina Lau), a doctor who lives in a palace surrounded by maids, and holds a kung-fu competition to decide her husband, is a character worthy of an entire film in herself. The film switches from comedy to tragedy in the blink of an eye, and most of these leaps actually work pretty well. The overall effect occasionally seems cheesy (witness the battle between Lau and a mirror with a picture of Kwok glued to it!), but if you’ve got any kind of soul at all, if this doesn’t save it, the film will touch it at some point.