Directors Yan Yan Mak (Hu Die) and Clement Sze-Kit
Cheng (Gallants) team up for a film that dares to gives some extra shine
to the Hong-Kong arthouse scene. Joining others like High Noon and Ex
(both by Heiward Mak), this film once again strengthens my beliefs that
Hong Kong is capable of a lot more than it dares to (mass)produce. Now
if only films like Merry-Go-Round would get the proper international
exposure, more of them would find the light of day.
Like it or not, but the Hong Kong movie scene is mostly treasured in the
West for its abundance in genre film making. Sprawling martial arts
epics, gritty police thrillers and some classy Triad action are all fan
favorites and are easy to sell to the West. When it comes to
arthouse/drama cinema though, there is a small but very noticeable
emptiness. Other Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan and China have
interesting drama releases queuing up year after year, digging up some
decent Hong Kong drama/arthouse titles often requires a lot more effort.
Finding Yan Yan Mak behind a film like this was no real surprise, those
of you who have seen Hu Die will definitely recognize his style. But
seeing Clement Sze-Kit Cheng appearing on the director's list is
something else. Gallants was a quirky and fun rehash of the martial arts
comedies of yonder, none of those elements found their way into this
film. Still, the duo obviously complemented each other pretty well and
the result is both beautiful and captivating.
The film follows the lives of two women who meet each other for the
first time in California. They both move back to Hong Kong a little
while later, and without them knowing their lives appear to be closer
connected than they could ever have imagined. This connection is formed
by two men who link everything together and complete the rather complex
setup. Merry-Go-Round is more of a show, don't tell kind of film, so
piecing everything together does require you to keep focused throughout
the entire running time.
When the film was finished I went to check for cinematography credits on IMDb right away. With All About Love and Love In A Puff
Jason Kwan had some impressive credits to his resume already, but with
this film he completely baffled me. Merry-Go-Round looks truly
exquisite, each scene is beautifully shot and orchestrated to the
tiniest detail. The lighting is quite simply sublime and the framing
nothing less than perfect. I hope Kwam continues on this path as he
clearly has much more to show to the world.
It's a shame the soundtrack wasn't really up to par. Merry-Go-Round
features a nice (although very typical - think soft piano music) Asian
drama score, but mixed with some lesser quality indie songs, all of them
featuring English vocals. I assume it should underline the link with
the California plotline, but the effect is less than stellar. Sometimes
English-language tracks work in Asian films (think Ghibli's The Borrowers),
but here they conflict with the unmistakable Asian arthouse vibe coming
from the rest of the film. The result isn't bad per se, but it's
obvious the soundtrack doesn't really fulfill its full potential.
Luckily the acting is as solid as ever. Teddy Robin Kwan remains an
interesting and very recognizable actor, Miao puts in a stylish
performance too. As for the youngsters, it's Koon that shines the
brightest and also carries most of the dramatic weight of
Merry-Go-Round. Chou is probably the weakest link, but only in
comparison with the others. The four of them do a great job of acting
out the many nuances between the different characters in the film and
succeed in bringing their respective character to life.
Merry-Go-Round is a film that drifts by gently, but also manages to
linger afterwards. There isn't a clear plot or dramatic hook you can
look forward to, so people with an angsty plot fixation should take
notice. We're just following a set of four characters whose lives are
slowly intertwining, going through their everyday rituals trying to deal
with the problems they encounter. There's no big pay-off at the end,
just a small twist that puts some things in perspective, but doesn't
bring any mind-shattering revelations. This is definitely not a bad
thing, but not everyone will appreciate this.
Above all, Merry-Go-Round is an ultra-stylish drama with its heart in
the right place. It's suited for people who don't necessarily need
impressive plot lines or great emotional scenes to enjoy a drama film.
To see such a film coming from Hong Kong is quite unique, but those of
you who are familiar with modern Taiwanese dramas will probably see the
similarities right away.
If only the soundtrack would've been a bit better, this film could have
turned out to be a small masterpiece. For now, it's a warm, gentle and
beautifully shot drama with a set of interesting characters that will
guide you through the 120 minutes running time with deceptive ease.
Hopefully many more Hong Kong films will follow in its footsteps, though
looking at the poor international interest displayed for Merry-Go-Round
I wouldn't bet on it.
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