Site Features
- Asian Film Awards
- Site Recommendations

- Reader Poll Results

- The Sponsor Page
- The FAQ Page
support this site by shopping at
Click to visit
Asian Blu-ray discs at
Soul of a Demon


Soul of a Demon
Tseng Yi-Che and one of the many butterflies
Year: 2008
Director: Chang Tso-Chi
Producer: Lin Yi-Chang, Ma Tai-Sheng
Writer: Chang Tso-Chi
Cast: Tseng Yi-Che, Chen Pei-Chun, Cheng Yu-Jen, Chan Cheng-Yun, Tsai Chieh-De, Hsieh Yueh-Hsia, Lei Feng, Tsai Tien-Hsiung, Chou Yu Wan-Mei, Chang Yen-Cheng, Michio Hayashida, Hsu Ling-Tsang, Wu Hung-En, Huang Tsai-Yi, Wang Hsi-Jung, Yang Yu-Ming, Li Yu-Hao
The Skinny: This slow-burn gang drama is obviously aiming for meaning, but the meandering, circuitous route it takes to get there doesn't help. A disappointing effort from director Chang Tso-Chi.
by Kozo:

Soul of a Demon shows plenty of potential, but frustratingly does not capitalize. A slow-burn gang drama from director Chang Tso-Chi (The Best of Times), the film showcases potent situations and fine locations, and delivers a portrait of the Taiwanese unique to current cinema. The film is also slow and meandering, and possesses conflicts that take so long to reach a head that they fizzle instead of explode. At least there are butterflies.

Che (Tseng Yi-Che) has been released from prison and is back home in the port town of Nanfangao, tending to the bubbling conflicts that accompany his return. Chief among them is the still-festering gang rivalry between his family and that of local mob boss Shun (Hsu Ling-Tsang), whose son was stabbed by Che's brother Ren (Cheng Yu-Jen) - a crime for which Che took the rap, hence his stint in the big house. Immediately, Che's return heightens tensions.

Che's family lineage is also an issue; the family is mixed Japanese-Taiwanese, and there's underlying racial and cultural prejudice. His own father Chang (Michio Hayashida) has turned his back on his Taiwanese life, and is currently in Japan, where he contemplates a return to settle things with Shun. A return would be complicated, however, by a run-in with Che, who has a deep anger at his father that he simply can't let go of. As Che struggles to reconcile with his personal conflict, Chang makes his own move, and the situation spirals towards a violent end.

Inexorable is not the word to describe Soul of a Demon. While Chang Tso-Chi sets up interesting conflicts, he doesn't send them in motion towards an anticipated end. The film possesses many attributes of a gangland drama, but this is one of the most languid thrillers you'll find, and features lots of exposition and soul-searching lassitude in place of actual action. Che and his mute girlfriend Pei (Chen Pei-Chun) take a break from the supposed tension to visit his mother's grave, and the field trip is less revealing than it is meandering. A fortune teller rides up on a motorcycle and reads Che's palm, Che kills a snake loitering on his mother's grave - all interesting details, but are they essential?

Not really, though it's probable that Chang wants us to think they are. Soul of a Demon is structured using intertitles, each shedding supposed meaning on the film's events and details. However, the technique never does more than announce pretentious meaning, and the numerous butterflies flitting about (the Chinese title means "butterflies") only seem to matter the first time they appear. As they appear more than once during the film's two-hour running time, the device becomes overused. Time would have been better spent developing the characters through action, like perhaps having them meet once or twice to develop their conflicts. As it is, spoken exposition drives the plot forward, and when things eventually do reach their breaking point, the emotional impact just isn't there.

Soul of a Demon certainly seems unique. The combination of rural Taiwanese gangsters and the Japanese-Taiwanese racial tensions is something not usually explored in cinema, and Chang captures the port town of Nanfangao exceptionally well, creating a location that feels very real. However, the gang situations are ill-fitting to all the existential moping and musing that the characters go through, and the film can't find the tension to make its violent climax truly cathartic. There's effort and thought here, but Chang's intentions seem announced by the script, and not felt on the screen. Given its multiple levels and rich cultural context, Soul of a Demon would probably make a better novel than a film. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Thailand)
Region 3 PAL
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Thai Language Track
  Find this at

image courtesy of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen