Hong Kong Cinema Festival 2011 – Merry-Go-Round Review and Trailer

Often in subjective art, such as most motion pictures, the notion of “It is what it is” will be used to describe a film.  In film critiquing, this could be seen as a cop-out of sorts and a way of not truly committing to either the praising or bashing of a film.  To give an example, if I were to say that a vanilla flavored ice cream cone “is what it is,” you would probably surmise that while I didn’t fully enjoy the ice cream cone, that I didn’t hate it either, and that my experience with the whole affair was an average one at best.

In the case of Clement Sze-Kit Cheng and Yan Yan Mak‘s attempt at illuminating such grandiose themes of universal connectivity and the human condition the notion of “it is what it is” means something entirely different. This was not an average film at best, rather a film of underwhelming results, especially when tackling the lofty subject of life’s meaning.

It is my strong opinion that the It means that it is pretentious in reach and other than for the performances it is a waste of time to even bother revisiting. Harsh words, I know, but to those defenders of this film and those who have not yet seen it, I implore you to please hear me out.

First, a brief synopsis of the film as stated by the press release:

The dying drug addict runs away from San Francisco to Hong Kong, to stalk a cyber acquaintance. Instead, she’s stuck with a grumpy old Coffin Home keeper.
A letter brings the Chinese herbal physician back to Hong Kong after 60 years.
The young heir of a traditional herbal shop is filled with guilt and regrets, struggling between three women.
5 lost souls found themselves when their lives cross path in a love story which spans across 60 years of Hong Kong history.

Now, I don’t proclaim to know how exactly one exhibits their ambitious attempt at illuminating themes of connective-ness, but after watching this film I do know what I wouldn’t do.  I wouldn’t saturate my film with an irritating 90s infused indie-rock soundtrack of whiny musicians.  Seriously, every time there is a pause in character development or exposition, rather than letting the film breathe I found myself being suffocated with a cringe inducing, ear pestering and highly distracting emo-indie noise. I also wouldn’t go to great lengths to revolve my story around such dull characters with such obvious complexities and then neatly tie them all together.

I know it’s a common occurrence in storytelling to reveal how characters are related to each other, with or without them knowing about it, in order to highlight the greater moral or theme.  The reveal in how all the characters are effected by each other in Merry-Go-Round seemed a little too unbelievable for me to get behind.  And when a film takes the time to invest its viewers in the characters and fails, all hope of me getting behind its grander message will be completely lost, regardless of how good the acting is.

Perhaps the filmmakers should have taken notes from more dexterous directors who have implemented this form of storytelling which effectively communicates grander themes eclipsing those of the actual human characters. For example, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s character intertwining in Amores Perros effectively critiqued separation of social classes much the way Quentin Tarantino‘s network of toughies in Pulp Fiction spoke volumes on the importance of every single decision and the consequential repercussions those decisions have, no matter how small.

In conclusion, Merry-Go-Round fails in achieving its prologue announcement stating that every decision we make molds us into how we live our lives.  As for an exercise on acting, the film isn’t all that bad, but if I really wanted to watch a great film for acting with an overambitious story and an equally irritating soundtrack I’d much prefer Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Magnolia, and I love me some PTA.

Showtimes for Merry-Go-Round:

Friday, September 23rd – 6:30pm (SFFS New People Cinema – 1746 Post Street)

Saturday, September 24th – 4:00pm (SFFS New People Cinema – 1746 Post Street)

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