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Christmas Rose
|     review    |     notes     |
Aaron Kwok in CHRISTMAS ROSE     Guey Lun-Mei in CHRIStMAS ROSE

(left) Aaron Kwok, and (right) Guey Lun-Mei in Christmas Rose

Chinese: 聖誕玫瑰  
Year: 2013  
Director: Charlie Young Choi-Nei  
Producer: Tsui Hark, Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung
Writer: Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Philip Lui Koon-Nam
Cast: Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Guey Lun-Mei, Chang Chen, Xia Yu, Qin Hailu, Liu Kai-Chi, Wan Qian, Kam Kwok-Leung, Pat Ha Man-Chik, Theresa Lee Yi-Hung, Kate Yeung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho
The Skinny: The first film from director Charlie Young is a solid courtroom drama that spins way out of control thanks to unbelievable plot twists and questionable political correctness. Well-meaning but a disappointment.
 
Review
by Kozo:
Charlie Young adds new line items to her resume with her debut directorial work Christmas Rose. Tsui Hark and Jacob Cheung co-produce this courtroom drama, based on a story by Young and a screenplay by Philip Lui (The Guillotines, Legend of the Fist), and the big names don’t end there. Young enlists Aaron Kwok, Guey Lun-Mei and Chang Chen for the lead roles, with many notable names (Liu Kai-Chi, Qin Hailu, Pat Ha and even nineties actress Theresa Lee) shoring up the supporting cast. Unfortunately the resulting film doesn’t match its promising pedigree; while a passable drama for some of its running time, Christmas Rose ultimately capsizes beneath unbelievable plot twists, misguided direction, one-note characters and an overdone music score. The positives: it’s competently-made, well-produced and clocks in at only 89 minutes, so it won’t eat up much of your precious moviegoing time. Choose your half of the glass.

Aaron Kwok stars as Tim Chen, a defense attorney in a high-powered firm who decides to chuck it all and become a court-appointed prosecutor because he really wants to punish bad guys. Immediately, Tim gets a slam dunk case: Disabled piano teacher Jane Li (Guey Lun-Mei) has accused celebrity doctor Winston Zhou (Chang Chen) of sexual assault, and who wouldn’t believe the sweet and angelic Jane over the professional and seemingly cold Dr. Zhou? The press amps up the outrage, and though Tim’s role as an assigned prosecutor means he must remain distant from Jane, he’s definitely on her side. While Tim prepares for a knockout courtroom battle with cocksure defense lawyer Freddy Xue (Xia Yu), Tim’s colleague Yan (Liu Kai-Chi) begins to suspect there may be more to Dr. Zhou and Jane’s relationship than meets the eye. Will justice be served or will the bad guys get off? And are the bad guys really bad guys?

Christmas Rose is loaded with intriguing and complex situations. There were no witnesses to Dr. Zhou’s alleged crime besides Jane, so the whole thing is a “she said, he said” with the caveat that Jane is a disabled girl which automatically gets her sympathy. On the other hand, Dr. Zhou is an upstanding if standoffish individual with no prior issues, while Jane has a habit of showing affection towards protective males, among them Tim himself, who she presents with origami roses not unlike the ones she gifted to Dr. Zhou. Characters have to weigh these issues when making their decisions, and the film isn’t initially clear on what actually happened, with minor Rashomon-like sequences offering two possible “truths”. Charlie Young stages her courtroom scenes in a disorganized manner and employs too much slow motion, but she sets up the central drama solidly enough. Given the evidence, this case could go either way.

Then the wheels come off and Christmas Rose goes so far off the rails that a time machine would be required to undo its significant collateral damage. The filmmakers smartly concentrate on the courtroom case, as Tim Chen’s personal drama – he has unresolved issues with his father (Joe Cheung) – is uninspired and only tangentially related to the immediate story. However, the case veers towards a showy ending with surprise witnesses, questionably relevant tangents and abundant legal malpractice, not to mention plot twists that give easy outs to certain characters and are demeaning to people suffering mental ailments and past trauma. The script deals with tough subjects but it handles them in such a pious and patronizing manner that it becomes alarming. This is well-meaning but irresponsible screenwriting, and combined with the overdramatized style, overbearing music and the simple fact that the script engages in victim blaming…well, this is one disappointing Christmas.

Acting is not exemplary, though it’s hard to fault the actors considering the script. Aaron Kwok is super-serious as Tim Chen but the character is portrayed as so naïve that he becomes unbelievable. Guey Lun-Mei shines initially with her innocent grace before flaming out when she’s saddled with numerous revelatory crying jags (her Cantonese dubbing doesn’t help either). Chang Chen and Qin Hailu (as Dr. Zhou’s wife) turn in solid and nuanced support, while Liu Kai-Chi and Xia Yu give their characters entertaining if somewhat smarmy intelligence. Charlie Young deserves credit for attempting to explore complex and difficult subject matter with her first feature. Unfortunately, she got lost somewhere along the way and we’re left with a misguided attempt at relevant and commercial filmmaking that only succeeds at insulting the people it’s supposed to be sympathizing with. Young’s intentions in bringing Christmas Rose to the screen were good, that much is certain. If only intentions were enough. (Kozo, 5/2013)

 
Notes:

• Charlie Young and Christmas Rose won an Excellence Award from the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) in 2009 because she was able to raise the film’s entire US$2 million budget during the 3-day financing event. The award does not necessarily mean that Christmas Rose was recognized during its financing stage as a quality project.
• Charlie Young’s pitch for Christmas Rose can be found here. The final film contains significant changes from the original pitch.

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Deltamac (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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Image credit: Bona Entetainment

   
   
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