Despite its unnerving mixture between cuteness and absolute tragically, the oddest, most surreal part of SOUL COMMUNICATOR (Liang Kai Wei, 2017) is its personified animals, or, more precisely, Yu Zhou’s mental image of what these animal souls look like. Yu Zhou, it seems, can communicate with animals, or, more precisely, their souls, through a psychic connection. Animal owners come to her when the animal has been (or appears to be) unhappy or distressed, and Yu Zhou helps the owners figure out what’s wrong.
When the film lets us see what Yu Zhou sees, however, the animals souls are both cute and disturbing. Dressed in their underwear, with beatific smiles or small whimpers, these animal souls explain what’s wrong; a rooster wants to know why he’s not bought like the chickens, or a bunny suggests that the pressure to love is just too much. Crouching and shivering, these animal souls placed into human bodies have a bit of the uncanny valley to them. And Yu Zhou knows this as well—these humans don’t really want to know what the animals think, they want simple solutions that make them feel like their pets or work animals are happy. The rooster wants to be loved, for example, as the chickens are loved, and taken away, but this is, of course, too morbid for the owners.
Yu Zhou’s psychic animal connection is the backdrop for the story’s larger narrative thread—the disappearance of a girl from Yu Zhou’s school. The girl in question, Ying Ying, helps Yu Zhou with odds and ends around her establishment. She also brings Yu Zhou a client: the headmaster from school, whose bunny is anxious around his wife. While the bunny is not actually anxious, he lets a few secrets slip, disturbing Yu Zhou, and leads her to question the moral character of the headmaster.
This strange, unnerving thread mirrors the animal souls and the aesthetic of the film in general; on the one hand, everything is adorable (roosters! bunnies! children!). The film’s visual tone is made seamless by a general wash in a light Hello Kitty pink. However, everything is also askew, off-kilter, and odd. These animals don’t really know what’s happening, Ying Ying’s happy demeanor hides malevolent secrets, and adults manipulate children, who really don’t understand anything.
While the film’s end monologue is a bit overly melodramatic and doesn’t remain stylistically consistent with the rest of its sensibilities, SOUL COMMUNICATOR nevertheless points the inherent problem of cuteness. Cute things are cute because they don’t understand; they are vulnerable and childlike. However, what is cute is also a subject with goals, intelligence, and their own desires, however hidden.