Soul of a Demon

Bottom Line: Gangster blues weighed down by portentous historical allegory.

BERLIN – Those uplifted by watching Chang Tso-chi's soulful "Darkness and Light" and visually mesmerizing "The Best of Times" will feel their heart sink seeing the same cinematic and philosophical tropes bob up in "Soul of a Demon," then drown in a messy script encumbered by heavy-handed violence and Oedipal histrionics.

Shot in Nanfangao, a port in northeast Taiwan where the first Japanese colonialists landed in 1895, it tells the tragedy of a tormented gangster who can neither accept his half-Japanese yakuza father nor disengage from the cycle of vendetta in the local underworld.

Chang tries too hard to aestheticize his gangster flick with CGI-rendered fantasy. Unable to resist the habit of auteurs, he over-populates the screen with his pet motifs of people with disabilities or illnesses, gangsters and old men, tunnels, seaports and ferries. They seem to be culled for the sake of stylistic consistency to his oeuvre.

As in all his work, cinematography and lightning play an equally essential role as acting and narration. Chang's regular DOP Chang Chan ups the ante with rhapsodic scenic shots of Chang's favorite aqueous imagery. Every interior shot is suffused with light emanating from a dark background, illustrating his theme of hope emerging from the bleakest existence.