‘The Soul’ (Original title: ‘Ji Hun’) is a Chinese mystery sci-fi film that follows the intricately entwined stories of a murdered chairman of a large corporation, his two wives, his business partner, and his estranged son. The film is based on Jiang Bo’s novel and blends multiple genres to keep the audience guessing and on their toes.
Originally seen to be a murder motivated by occult forces, the story spirals into a psychological thriller that shifts the blame for the murder amongst all involved. With an ending that is futuristic, unexpected, and maybe just a tiny bit hopeful, there is a lot to unpack in ‘The Soul.’ If you’re still not sure about the fates of the characters, fear not. We come bearing answers! Let’s get to it. SPOILERS AHEAD
The Soul Plot Synopsis
‘The Soul’ opens with the brutal murder of Wang Shi-Cong, the chairman of a large group of companies that also has an arm in biotechnology and cancer research. Originally thought to be motivated by the suicide of his first wife, Tang Su-Zhen, and committed by their estranged son, Wang Tian-You, the authorities begin to search for the son, thinking he is involved in the occult.
The lead detective, Liang Wen-Chao, who is also dying of cancer, however, realizes that there is more to this case than meets the eye and cuts his medical leave short to investigate the murder. He soon realizes that the chairman’s second wife, Li Yan, does not have an alibi. He also discovers that the chairman’s first wife’s suicide was attributed to “religious reasons” but that she actually killed herself because she was unhappy in her marriage.
As he investigates further, it becomes clear that the chairman’s longtime business partner, Dr. Wan, is involved in the crime and is seen to be suspiciously close to both of the murdered man’s wives. Detective Liang soon becomes convinced that Dr. Wan has used his company’s groundbreaking new RNA transfer procedure to infuse Li Yan’s body with the chairman’s first wife’s genetic information, with whom the doctor was earlier seen having an affair.
Liang is further convinced when he notices drastic changes in Li Yan’s behavior and handwriting and also sees her talking to Tang’s son like he is her own. However, Liang’s own cancer spreads fast, and he soon collapses and has to be hospitalized, leaving his pregnant wife, Ah-Bao, to care for him. When Liang awakens in the hospital, he finds that the expensive RNA treatment that they could not afford earlier has mysteriously been performed on him for free.
He is told, however, that he will remain largely paralyzed despite his life being saved and does not like the prospect of continuing to live in a “broken body.” Whilst still in hospital, Liang finds a voice recording that incriminates Li Yan for her husband’s murder and realizes that his own wife, who is a policewoman, had in fact hidden the evidence so she could blackmail Li Yan and Dr. Wan to perform the RNA procedure for free and save her husband.
The Soul Ending: Who is in Li Yan’s Body?
As Liang reels from his wife’s actions, she breaks down and tells him that she is willing to let go of her principles for the sake of him and their unborn child. Liang, still weak and handicapped by his illness, goes back to working on the case but is unable to leave his house. Meanwhile, Li Yan lodges a police complaint that Dr. Wan has tried to attack and drug her, which gets picked up by the news and becomes public knowledge. Soon after, Liang is visited by Dr. Wan at his home.
Initially suspicious, he allows Dr. Wan to explain himself, and the doctor launches into a story that goes back 20 years. According to Dr. Wan, he and chairman Wang Shi-Cong were lovers, with the latter always feeling like he was a woman trapped in a man’s body. The doctor reveals that Wang, who was also fatally sick, planned to use the RNA transfer technology to transfer his consciousness into that of his second wife, Li Yan. It is further revealed that Li Yan was only pretending to be Wang’s wife but was actually an orphan recruited for the procedure.
Once in Li Yan’s body, chairman Wang also planned to inseminate her with his sperm so that her child would contain his consciousness as well, hence letting him be a woman and run his company for multiple generations. The plan, however, went awry because Li Yan murdered Wang before the procedure was complete. The doctor concludes, in the present, that he now doesn’t know whether Wang is actually in Li Yan’s body or not.
Detective Liang and Dr. Wan decide to confront Li Yan so that they might get a confession out of her. During their meeting, however, Li Yan admits to loving Dr. Wan, hinting that the procedure was successful. Dr. Wan, unable to control his emotions, sprays Li Yan with something mysterious. Some days later, Li Yan, who had taken control of her late husband’s company, announces that she is giving up control of the company.
She then confesses to killing her husband and is imprisoned. Both Liang and Dr. Wan also die, the former from cancer and the latter by committing suicide. In the closing scenes of the movie, we see Liang’s widow Ah-Bao with her newborn baby visit Li Yan in prison. After commenting on how the baby looks like its father, we see Li Yan smile affectionately, almost lovingly at the mother and child, before the credits roll in, leaving the audience mystified.
So who is inside Li Yan’s body? Dr. Wan earlier confirmed that all of Li Yan’s memories were deleted on the orders of Wang, and we then see Li Yan begin to slowly start resembling Wang himself, telling us that the RNA transfer process is working. For the sake of clarity, we will henceforth refer to all the characters’ consciousnesses as their “souls.” Though at one point Liang wonders how a soul can change bodies merely through a genetic transfer procedure, for all intents and purposes, this is what seems to be happening.
The mysterious spray administered on Li Yan by Dr. Wan and the procedure he subsequently performs on her are kept hidden from the audience. However, after the procedure, Li Yan becomes amenable and not only gives up control of the company but also confesses to Wang’s murder. We know for a fact that the ambitious Wang, whose soul seemed to be taking over Li Yan’s body, would not have done this. It is also unlikely that Li Yan’s soul is back in her body, considering it was “deleted” on Wang’s orders.
This leads us to the major twist in the ending, as all fingers point to Liang as the soul now inhabiting Li Yan’s body. This explains the affectionate smile Li Yan flashes at Ah-Bao and her baby since it is actually Liang smiling at his wife and newborn child. It also seems that the procedure is not completed yet as Li Yan still refers to Liang in the third person instead of as herself, but some of Liang’s characteristics and emotions have already begun to show in Li Yan’s demeanor. This also shows us that, in a way, Liang did what his wife was trying to do and put their happiness before his principles by going through with the illegal procedure with the help of Dr. Wan.
What Happens to Wang Shi-Cong’s “Soul”?
At the end of the movie, we see Dr. Wan break down whilst listening to Li Yan (who is channeling Wang) and subsequently committing suicide whilst lying on Wang’s bed. It is worth noting that what kills him is an injection of a bright blue substance, which resembles the RNA dust he used for his “transfer” procedures. We also know that he earlier tried to kill, or at least subdue, Li Yan as he slowly began to regret his actions and was later able to subdue her with Liang’s help and perform the mysterious procedure on her.
It, therefore, seems like Dr. Wan extracted his former lover Wang’s soul from Li Yan’s body and then injected it into himself, along with some other substance that quickly killed him. There are multiple reasons why this most likely happened, the foremost of which is that Dr. Wan came to realize that his former lover’s ambition was making him dangerous. After the events involving Wang’s death, we see Dr. Wan regret the role he played in them and try to correct his mistakes.
Wan’s biggest mistake, the root of all that occurs in ‘The Soul,’ is him helping Wang with retaining control of his company whilst also having a woman’s body. By injecting Wang’s soul into his own body and then committing suicide, Dr. Wan corrects his mistake and also presents a fitting end to the former lovers. We can therefore conclude that Wang’s soul dies along with Dr. Wan.
Is Li Yan Pregnant With Wang’s Child?
Apart from taking over Li Yan’s body, the second part of Wang’s diabolical plot was to inseminate her with his sperm. Hence the child subsequently born would also channel his soul, letting him control his company for another generation. We briefly see Li Yan sporting a baby bump after she begins turning into Wang, meaning that she was at one point pregnant with his child. However, this particular baby is not mentioned again, and we see Li Yan subsequently go to prison after having Wang’s soul removed from her body.
The most likely explanation is that whilst performing the procedure to expunge Wang from her body, Dr. Wan also expunges the unborn baby, ensuring that Wang’s lineage, at least with Li Yan, comes to an end. This also fits the end of the movie since Liang, in the voice recording he leaves for his unborn child before dying, says that he has ensured his wife and son’s safety in the future by sacrificing himself. By this, he is most likely alluding to the fact that he has destroyed all aspects of Wang’s plan, including the child that Li Yan was impregnated with.
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