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Soul Guardians, The

Tai Seng // Unrated // January 24, 2006
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted February 3, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

"The Soul Guardians" is a decent-at-best fantasy-horror with a good ten minutes missing. Unfortunately for us, those are the ten minutes we really needed to see to figure out just what's going on here.

The film opens with a police raid on a cult just as they're all offing themselves. A few survive, and a pregnant cultist is rushed to the hospital; following a Caesarian, the newborn daughter lives, the mother does not. Jump ahead twenty years, where the baby, Seung-hie (Chu Sang-mi) is apparently telepathic and is now working as an auto mechanic. The other survivors are getting killed off, with danger closing in on Seung-hie, something about how she was supposed to be Satan's bonebag when she was born, and now the devil wants a body again. Her defenders? A fallen priest (Ahn Sung-kee), a dopey kid with mystical powers and a serious jones for Playstation games (Oh Hyun-chul), and a hunky, heartbroken hero (Shin Hyeon-jun) who carries around a magic dagger with a mind and soul of its own. It likes to fly around and cause all sorts of mischief in between feats of derring-do. The blade has no name in the film, but I call him Stabby.

It's a serviceable premise for a thriller, and while it's way too overplayed by writer/director Park Gwang-choon (adapting the book by Lee Woo-hyouk), there are some moments that work. This is thanks mainly to the cast, who give the project their all, despite it being incredibly dopey. Ahn's performance as the troubled man of the cloth is enough to keep one watching through all the trouble spots (of which there are way too many); it's a solid performance, one that sadly doesn't get enough play in this story.

What we get instead is a chaotic presentation - the script and the editing come with an anarchy that puts the viewer off from the start. Park has a tendency to jump from scene to scene and idea to idea with no sense of transition, no head for storytelling logic. There's so much left out of the opening half hour (who are these people? what are they doing? why does that kid have magic powers? how does the priest know him? where did Stabby come from? just what exactly is going on here?) that by the time Park gets around to slamming on the brakes in order to clumsily explain it all, chances are pretty good we've already tuned out.

Even on a scene-by-scene basis, things fail more than they succeed. Consider a scene in which the priest and the kid wizard are checking out the cremated remains of the cult leader. Never mind the awkward mixing of religions in this scene (for a movie so interested in Catholicism as an easy link to demonic doings, it sure has the heroes whipping up some Eastern beliefs, too). Instead, watch as spooky voices thunder in the air while disembodied hands emerge from the walls to grab our heroes. This should have been a major shocker, a key leap-from-your-seat moment. But Park brings the hands out so slowly, and seemingly with so little concern, that you barely budge.

(An earlier scene, that has the young woman about to be crushed by a car that's hanging overhead, its cables slowly snapping loose, is better on the nailbiter scale, but it still lacks that important oomph a movie like this so desperately needs.)

Toss in a hopelessly sappy romance angle between the hero and the mechanic (the musical score actually comes thisclose to plagiarizing "My Heart Will Go On") and some unwieldy dialogue ("I can read the mind of Satan, you know!" "They why don't you know how I feel?!" Um… what?), and the movie becomes downright unsalvageable.

The DVD

Video


Despite its being labeled merely as "letterboxed" on the DVD case, "The Soul Guardians" is actually given a very nice anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer. The darks never overwhelm the image, and while the overall picture is often soft, that's more due to the original film than the transfer itself.

Audio

The original Korean soundtrack is presented in equally nice 5.1 Dolby Digital, the mix working in the movie's favor. Also offered are the obligatory English dub (in 5.1 Dolby, which sounds nice, but who cares?) and an unimpressive Cantonese mono track. Optional subtitles are available in English, traditional Chinese, and simplified Chinese.

Extras

The only main feature here is a twelve-minute interview with Park, who rambles on about how difficult it is to sell a science fiction movie in South Korea - which is odd, considering there's nothing science fiction about "The Soul Guardians." Perhaps it's just a slip of the translation? (Doubtful.) Note: this interview comes with non-optional (burned in) English subtitles.

Also included are trailers for six other Tai Seng releases.

A major drawback to the disc: the Tai Seng logo, two trailers (not, by the way, available in the extras menu), the Dolby Digital trailer, and a disclaimer all introduce the disc, which has been encoded so it's impossible to skip or fast forward past any of this stuff. It is, quite simply, a major pain.

Final Thoughts

Fans of Asian horror or of Ahn Sung-kee might find a few brief moments here worth watching, but it's a long way to go for such little payoff. There's so little here that we haven't seen before - and better.

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