Late last month, independent movie company Film Movement brought the Chinese epic Soul on a String to audiences when it released the movie domestically on DVD. The movie, which originally debuted in its home nation June 15, 2016 and domestically Oct. 22, 2016 at the Chicago International Film Festival, is a an interesting cinematic experience. It crosses elements of east and west for a story that makes the movie worth at least one watch. The story will be discussed shortly. While the story itself makes the movie worth at least one watch, its pacing sadly detracts quite a bit from the movie’s overall presentation. It will be discussed later. While it takes away quite a bit from the movie’s presentation, the movie’s stunning cinematography makes up for that pacing and makes it at least somewhat bearable. It will be discussed later, too. Each element is key to the overall presentation of Soul on a String. All things considered, the movie survives by more than a thread.
China’s imported epic journey of self-discovery Soul on a String is one of 2017’s most intriguing independent home releases. Released domestically by Film Movement, the movie follows one man’s journey of redemption as he tries to return a sacred stone to its rightful place. If this sounds oddly familiar, it should. Disney’s hit animated movie Moana presents a very similar story, just with some minor changes. In the case of the latter movie, the protagonist is a young woman on a coming-of-age journey as she travels to return a sacred stone to its rightful place. Considering that Soul on a String came along first (Moana debuted Nov. 23, 2016 domestically, roughly five months after Soul on a String debuted in China), one can’t help but wonder about the connection between the two. Getting back on the subject at hand, the story at the center of Soul on a String is in itself reason enough to give this movie at least one watch. Audiences will be moved by Tabei’s personal growth over the course of his journey. He starts out a very reluctant figure, wanting nothing to do with the journey or his two unlikely companions who join him along the way. However, as his journey progresses, Tabei becomes more welcoming of them and grows personally, accepting even more his journey and fate. That growth over time makes the problematic pacing of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie almost bearable. Speaking of that pacing, it is the movie’s one major negative. It is a major issue for the movie’s presentation, too.
The pacing of Soul on a String’s story is the movie’s only real notable negative. That may not seem like much on the surface, but in the grand scheme of the movie’s two hour, twenty-two minute run time, it is extremely problematic. Obviously the story’s intent is to follow Tabei on his long journey. However, the story’s pacing plods along at points nearly at a snail’s pace, making one quite encouraged to fast forward through those many points. In defense of the movie’s writing team of Zhaxidawa and writer/director Yang Zhang, the movie’s oftentimes dragging pace could have been fully intentional as a means to illustrate the length of Tabei’s journey. If that is the case, then it definitely leaves viewers feeling like they are right there on that expansive journey. Regardless of whether or not that was the intent, the pacing’s problematic nature cannot be ignored. That is especially the case when there is so little actual action to the story. Luckily, as problematic as the story’s pacing is, it is not enough of a problem that it makes the movie unwatchable. The movie’s cinematography makes that plodding pace at least somewhat bearable.
Soul on a String won the “Best Cinematography” award at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year at the film’s Chinese debut. That win was fully justified, too. From start to finish, those behind the cameras and those charged with putting those shots together did an exceptional job of setting each of the movie’s scenes. The vast expanses with their rich colors (both on land and in sky) are visually stunning throughout the movie. The same can be said of the tight canyons through which Chung and Pu are forced to travel late in the story. Each scene harkens back to the American Westerns which the movie strives (and succeeds) to emulate. As a matter of fact, it could easily be argued that the scenes established in this movie actually outdo those in their American counterparts. Audiences will revel in the juxtaposition of the lake to the mountains in the story’s final act and the natural beauty of the countryside throughout Tabei’s journey. All things considered, the visual aspect of Soul on a String is truly the movie’s cornerstone. It makes this Chinese import worth watching even more than the epic journey of self-discovery at its heart. Of course when both elements are set alongside one another, they make the movie’s pacing throughout an issue that while clearly problematic, is also at least somewhat bearable. Keeping all of this in mind, Soul on a String proves to be an independent offering worth at least one watch and that survives by more than a thread.
Soul on a String is a work that while definitely not perfect, thanks to its pacing, is one that is worth at least one watch. That is thanks to its story and cinematography, which collectively ensure viewers’ engagement at least through most of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour run time. If not for the positives that both elements prove, the movie’s plodding pacing would have ultimately doomed it. That–again-was not the case, though. Since it wasn’t the case, the movie ultimately survives by more than a thread. It is available now. More information on this and other titles from Film Movement is available online now at:
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