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There is little to separate Ma Sichun (left) and Zhou Dongyu, the two leads in Soul Mate, as far as performances go. The movie is also memorable for its stunning cinematography.

Strong leads bind female friendship drama

Nov 11, 2016 5:50 AM

GUYS, don't panic if your other halves suggest catching Soul Mate this weekend. Yes, it might look like a chick flick on paper but know that it is also not the sappy sort girls watch while passing around a tub of Häagen-Dazs and an extra-large box of Kleenex.

Adapted from a popular online novella by Chinese novelist Li Jie (aka Annie Bao Bei) and directed by Derek Tsang (yes, a man), Soul Mate is a heart-warming story about friendship at its core - it just so happens to feature two lead female characters.

The beautifully shot drama is an impressive solo debut effort for the latter, who would have been a shoo-in for this year's Best Director Golden Horse award, if only he isn't facing such stiff competition from more established filmmakers like Johnnie To (Three) and Feng Xiaogang (I Am Not Madame Bovary).

Tsang's two leading ladies might stand a better chance although things are made slightly tricky with both Ma Sichun and Zhou Dongyu going up against each other in the Best Actress category.

There is little to separate the two of them and the girls' confidence and nuanced performances mean one of them unfortunately might have to walk away empty-handed if the other one wins.

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Plot-wise, the teenage love triangle and tragi-romance is a hybrid of Shunji Iwai's cult Japanese drama Hana and Alice (2004), and the late Gary Marshall's tear-jerker Beaches (1988).

Ma and Zhou play BFFs July and Ansen respectively, two girls with different personalities and family backgrounds but who get along with each other like a house on fire the moment they meet in school.

But add boys to the equation and things naturally get complicated. To make matters worse, July and Ansen both have eyes for the same guy, Jiaming (Toby Lee).

To save their friendship, Ansen volunteers to walk away from the potentially messy situation and travels the world so that July and Jiaming can be left alone to be a couple.

But, even as the years go by, time and geographical distance do little to separate the three as they find themselves walking in and out of each other's lives.

When Jiaming eventually drops out of the equation, July and Ansen suddenly find themselves facing the ultimate test of their life-long friendship.

Things come to a slightly melodramatic climax in the third act, with Soul Mate introducing a couple of twists to the plot to make anyone think twice about labelling the film a chick flick.

It also leaves the film looking slightly like a 1970s Taiwanese tear-jerker but the stunning cinematography as well the two female leads' excellent turns are thankfully what the audience will mostly remember Soul Mate by.

Rating: B+