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Original Title:
Dong fung po

Hong Kong 2010


Clement Cheng Sze-Kit
Yan Yan Mak

Ella Koon
Teddy Robin
Lawrence Chou
Nora Miao
Lu Yulai
Joe Cheung
Denise Ho
Siu Yam-Yam
Wilfred Lau

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Story: Merry (Ella Koon) has leukemia and broken ties to her family. Living completely on her own in San Francisco she has only the internet friend Allen (Lawrence Chou) she can talk to. However, out of the blue he doesn't answer her anymore and so the girl decides to go back to Hong Kong. There she finds accommodation at a mortician's, Lam (Teddy Robin), and after that she manages to find out about Allen's whereabouts. She tells him that she is a friend of his internet acquaintance and hands over a letter, but he doesn't seem to have any interest in her anymore. Allen has his own problems to deal with as he wants to sell the pharmacy of his family, but he is hindered by his aunt Eva (Nora Miao) who has just arrived from San Francisco in order to stop her nephew doing this stupidity and to make the shop glisten in renewed splendor. At the same time Merry hasn't given up on conquering Allen's heart and therefore looks for advice from Lam by learning how to cook. Lam is still thinking abot a woman who has gone to San Francisco in 1938 and who he couldn't follow as war broke out. In a strange way the fate of these individuals seems to be intertwined as they have to find out bit by bit.

Review: "Merry-Go-Round" is a nice attempt at creating some profound festival cinema, unfortunately, the film fails in too many respects. In the end it's the script that poses the biggest problem as it is so fully packed that you could have easily made several movies with the material we have here. Then the movie also demands a lot of goodwill, namely that the viewer is willing to accept the extreme coincidences that link the characters to one another. Apart from that the film isn't capable of emotionally involving the audience. The characters are actually pretty interesting, but their motivation is oftentimes left in the dark and as a whole the film stumbles too much on the obstacles of an unstructered script so that we often get the feeling that the filmmakers didn't know where to go next with their story. Moreover, a lot of subjects are merely vaguely touched leading to the lack of inner warmth that the film tries to create with its beautiful pictures.

It's best to show how careless the filmmakers were concerning writing the screenplay by giving an example. The story of young Eva, who is also played by Ella Koon, is brought into the film through use of several flashbacks and takes place in the year 1938. Since the rest of the film is taking place in the present and we actually have to pinpoint this present in the year 2010, the notebook of Merry is proof of that, Eva has to be at least 90 years old if not 100! However, she isn't looking any older than 60. It is completely incomprehensible for me how something this obvious could have been overlooked.
More problematic, though, is that we are constantly diving into the stories of the individual characters and out of them. To no one of them we can build up true sympathies as the drawings of the characters are shallow as not to be expected otherwise. If the story had been shortened a bit there would have been more room for character development and that would have made "Merry-Go-Round" a lot more effetive as a drama.

Merry or Nam as she calls herself in Hong Kong in order not to be recognized by Allen as his internet acquaintance right away comes nearest to something similar to a sympathy figure of the film. But also with her there are some problems arising. In the beginning she is introduced as a drug addict that is getting swallowed by absolute loneliness. But where is her drug addiction when she is back in Hong Kong? And can she really hang onto Allan as a beacon of hope so much that you can't make out anything of her inner suffering anymore? Something isn't right here. Contrary to that some obvious oddities like the fact that Lam hires the girl and doesn't fire her afterwards even though she seemingly never does the work she is supposed to do can be explained later on, at the latest when we see that young Eva is played by the same actress things become more clear to the viewer even though it might have been the intention of the director to keep us in the dark for a bit longer.

It is eye-catching that the movie touches some serious and dramatic subjects, but handles them in a laid-back and warm tone. Maybe reason for that is that the charitable society Tung Wah Group for hospitals has produced the film. Goodbyes and suffering is put aside here and the pain is looked at through a sunflooded filter. Which brings us directly to the impressive look of the film. Jason Kwan, who has already worked on "Love in a Puff", is resonsible for the cinematography and he brings some beautiful pictures to the screen. He knows especially well how to use light and different colors. Therefore, the dreamy sunny pictures stand as the highlight of the film and also some of the camera work by Clement Cheng Sze-Kit ("Gallants") and Yan Yan Mak ("Butterfly") are a feast for the eyes, although this creates another problem as well since style over substance obviously is the name of the game. But it would have been nicer if the screenplay had been more fully developed.

Another flaw in a similar respect is the soundtrack. The indie-band Ketchup has contributed a cushy acoustic guitar soundtrack that is standing out because of its english ballads and which underlines the warm, nostalgic feeling the film tries to create even more. However, the music is made use of too excessively so that it even distracts from the actual movie and at some point it is just acknowledged by an annoyed groan anymore. And this even though the music itself sounds nice. This proves once again how little the individual parts of "Merry-Go-Round" fit together. Also on an acting level there could have been done more. Only Teddy Robin as the mortician and Ella Koon in her double role can be convincing, the rest remains too wooden, even though most of the blame for that has to be put on the script again. The ending will be a disapointment for many as well, especially since the occasionally thrown in wanna-be philosophical voice-overs are trying to convey how you have to feel. But it's just that closeness to the characteres and their dramas which the film can't build up. A nice attempt of a nostalgic drama that can most of all score with its pictures, but on a human level, mostly because of its overloaden and clouded script, is too reserved.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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