Back Comments (4) Share:
Facebook Button
Film
Park Kwang-chun’s 1998 directorial debut The Soul Guardians opens with a mass cult suicide, just as the police storm their satanic ritual. One of the few survivors is a pregnant mother, who is instantly rushed to hospital to deliver her daughter, only to die during a caesarean operation. Seung-hee grows up to become a car mechanic, blissfully unaware that the Devil has been searching for her soul during the past twenty years. Three soul guardians are assigned to protect her – a mystical warrior who wields a sword possessed by his dead sister, the original doctor turned priest who delivered Seung-hee after the cult suicide and his son who is an expert in the spiritual arts. It is imperative that they prevent Satan using Seung-hee as a vessel to dominate the world and destruct mankind.

Soul Guardians, The
The premise originated from a fan fiction posted on the web and with the power of the internet and hype, it was inevitable for the South Korean producers to immediately purchase film rights. The live action adaptation tries to be a modern gothic marvel, unashamedly personifying evil as the weakness of man whilst squeezing in enough fantasy, horror and action elements to create one of the most genre-bending experiences in South Korean cinema. In fact, it this multi-angled attitude that is the result of the film’s downfall; not only are the audience confused over what type of film The Soul Guardians is, apparently the filmmakers have very little idea themselves.

The underlying themes of Catholicism, resurrection of the Devil and the essence of pure evil have emerged in hundreds of Western productions; therefore an Asian approach instantly draws curiosity, as to how a Far Eastern culture would handle similar predicaments. The Hollywood influences are not exactly subtle; footprints of The Terminator, End of Days and Highlander are embedded throughout the film, expressing situations that are strangely familiar in tone and atmosphere. With all these seemingly random sketches flying everywhere, director Park Kwang-chun does little to bind the chapters together. Instead, The Soul Guardians is rather clumsily executed, comprising of abrupt edits that switch erratically between contrasting scenes.

Almost no introduction is provided; the audience is left to decipher their own assumptions based on the information that is initially presented. Character histories are virtually non-existent, instantly omitting opportunities for development. Even fundamental details, as to why the child is such a spiritual expert or the reasoning behind the trapped soul of the warrior’s sister, are kept mysteriously absent. Despite a relatively short runtime of 97 minutes, the story unfolds at crawling pace and yet, the film still feels deprived of progression and explanation.

Soul Guardians, The
To add further embarrassment, the dialogue and performances are absurdly exaggerated; South Koreans certainly love to extract maximum emotion from a lifeless scene. Consequently, many Western viewers may find the climax to be unintentionally comic and struggle to take everything seriously. Perhaps the most amusing performance is delivered by Oh Hyun-chul – a child actor who is clearly trying the hardest to maintain character amidst the lunacy. Asian cinema enthusiasts will notice Shin Hyeon-jun, who continued to star in such acclaimed titles as Guns & Talks and Bichinmoo. In fairness, it is not the actors’ fault that they were asked to react so passionately onscreen; their talents are perhaps better exhibited elsewhere.

The Soul Guardians’ special effects have not aged particularly well but for its time, they were certainly admirable and not far behind Hollywood’s standards. Luckily, much of the story takes place at night; thus, the film manages to take advantage of masking the CGI animation. The action segments are amateurish in comparison to HK’s efforts but still managed to portray a few unique touches. The filmmakers evidently had sincere ambition when it came to working with the visuals, especially in the camerawork department – the angles are remarkably precise, framing is kept rigid and the director certainly loves his circular panning motion.

Obviously flawed in countless ways, The Soul Guardians will tragically remain an unforgotten blip on the South Korean cinema radar. If Park Kwang-chun can somehow obtain international recognition, the world may find a soft spot for his directorial debut. Right now, one can only hope that Park has learned from his mistakes and has taken time to develop and refine his skills.

Soul Guardians, The

Video


The Soul Guardians is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As previously mentioned, the story takes place predominantly at night. Therefore it is immediately apparent how deep the blacks are, although certain details are lost in the shadows. The image is still largely perceptible, obviously not immensely sharp considering its age. Tai Seng have taken great care with the source print, reproducing healthy shades with sufficient clarity and keeping physical obstructions such as print damage and speckles to a minimum. The contrast level appears to be higher than expected, which reflects on the somewhat beaming flesh tones. Digital misrepresentations include slight colour bleeding, pixilation, edge enhancement and ghosting, where only the latter is extensively noticeable.

Audio


Once again, Tai Seng have provided a wealth of audio options. Firstly there are two Korean soundtracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 track is comparatively louder but quite a weak effort for a surround mix. Chapters that should sound heavy and energetic are strangely muffled and unfulfilling. The rears are almost identical for both soundtracks in terms of volume and content. Ambient noise is evident but not plentiful; the surrounds are mainly reserved for traces of the frontal output. The LFE is very much neglected and there is surprisingly little in the way of directional effects.

Soul Guardians, The
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 dub sounds slightly compressed due to the rearrangement of the audio layout and dynamic balance. There is now greater emphasis on the dialogue over the remaining soundtrack. The voice actors do a good job trying to match the mouth movements but it is impossible to accurately synchronise two diverse languages.

Lastly, there is a Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, which appears to be of a professional standard in terms of dubbing but is by far the weakest track in every other respect. The optional English subtitles are legible but occasionally disappear too quickly. Those who are familiar with Tai Seng subtitles can expect them to fade in and out, as usual.

Extras


The only supplementary material of interest is a 12m30s interview with the director, in which he discusses non-stop about the story’s origins and filming process, although he remains quite vague on the themes he was trying to portray. Park also reveals why he chose this particular cast and what he managed to extract from his performers. He rather humbly concludes with his appreciation for suggestions and possible criticism, so that he may improve upon future titles.

A few trailers from Tai Seng’s range finish off the list of extras on this disc.

Soul Guardians, The

Overall


The initial concept behind The Soul Guardians possessed enormous potential; it is not often that an Asian filmmaker decides to unravel the mythology behind a Western religion. Director Park Kwang-chun carelessly presents random ideas but fails to maintain a central narrative to bind the plot together. The finished product is a tragic waste, comprising of mass confusion and unintentional hilarity. As it stands, this sort of premise has been handled with far greater competence in various US film and TV projects.


Links: