Chinese painter Pan Yuliang was raised in a brothel and rescued by a Westernized customs official who fell in love and made her his favored second (polygamous) wife in the 1920s. In this film biography, Pan is played by the profound and radiant Gong Li ("Farewell My Concubine"), who captures beautifully the tension the artist felt as she was dogged by her past and caught between traditional Chinese culture and Western influences in her art (especially when it came to nudity).
But while "Soul" provides a sense of Pan's life, it provides no insight into her work (which is beloved in France, where she spent many years) and co-writer/director Huang Shuqin seems at times to be going for a melancholy chick-flick flavor -- especially when it comes to Pan's one-dimensional, Mr. Wonderful Supportive and Understanding husband (Derek Yee), who begs her forgiveness when her paintings and past cause him professional grief.
Abbreviated and over-fictionalized, the film often takes a few huge leaps in time and circumstance, but if the subject matter is of interest, this movie will certainly hold one's attention. Pity the DVD of this clearly colorful film has been made from such a muddy print.
THE FILM: **1/2
-- By Rob Blackwelder