ReviewWriter: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects:
NACinematography: Watch this if you liked:
Tim (Aaron Kwok) is a defence attorney who switches sides to the prosecution as he has something to prove to his ailing father, who was also a prosecutor. His first case seems clear cut: Jane Li (Gwei Lun-mei) is a handicapped piano teacher who is suing her employer and doctor, Winston Zhou (Chang Chen), for sexual harassment. The renowned doctor claims innocence, but to the public, it is obvious that he is guilty. After all, what does Jing stand to gain from indicting Zhou if he is innocent? As the case goes on, however, Tim finds that both sides ' testimonies hold equal weight, and with no witnesses, a Rashomon-like mystery unfolds.
As her directorial debut, actress Charlie Young's skill is shaky at best. Unlike the critically acclaimed "Rashomon" from which the film's marketed "Rashomon" effect came from, here it feels more like an attempt to disguise what she is trying to go for in "Christmas Rose", a melodrama about love. This would not be so fatal a flaw if Charlie Young's idea of a melodrama is something akin to Mike Nichols's "Closer", but it turns out to be a slightly more contained, longer and higher-budgeted version of a TVB serial episode, like say, "Ghetto Justice".
Not only is the script weak, the characters' motivations are more dubious than a container of milk left out opened on the counter for an hour. The fact that the film's title, "Christmas Rose", comes from a piano piece that is only mentioned once in the entire film speaks for Young's inability to rein in her script, as she tries to thread in as many details in as she can in order to keep the audience guessing, but fails to tie up her loose ends. Perhaps "Christmas Rose" symbolizes the flora hellebores, which are known for their poisonous and enduring nature, but like the numerous vague flashbacks that pervade the 90-minute film, we will never know.
With the exception of Golden Horse Award winner Gwei Lun-mei, who immersed herself in the role as if she will never get another acting job ever, channelling pain, vengeful fury and loneliness,the rest of star-studded cast appear almost reluctant to buy into all the drama. Chang Chen, whose face alone more than strengthens the case against him, alternates between looking stoic and mildly indignant, while Aaron Kwok tries to distract the audience from his continually brooding and tortured persona with his bad hairdo. Supporting characters like Qin Hailu, who plays Chang Chen's wife, spend their meagre screen time looking on at the proceedings awkwardly or with quiet sadness, as if wondering why they allowed themselves to be caught up in this.
While this courtroom drama debut lacks the punch it needs to make a statement despite centring on the rarely-discussed subject of sexual harassment in Hong Kong cinema, it hits hard enough to keep you in your seat with its realistic portrayal of the plight of sexual harassment victims and the accused. Spurred on by a persistently swelling and beautiful soundtrack, Charlie Young takes the script and tries to go for something different in cinematography; the flashback sequences may be vague, but it is undeniably gorgeous with its subtlety (Zhou pausing before taking off his ring, Jane in her wheelchair staring off desolately) and the sepia tones heightens the drama.
Like a house of cards, "Christmas Rose" grows more engaging as more and more details are added, only to fall due to a wrongly placed twist that makes the whole endeavour seem pointless and nonsensical. Still, there are flashes of brilliance in the film's first half that is more than enough to suggest that Charlie Young should stick at this feature-making lark as opposed to her acting career.Cinema Online, 23 May 2013