“Christmas Rose” marks the directorial debut of Hong Kong actress Charlie Yeung, who started off her career with roles in Wong Kar Wai’s “Ashes of Time” and “Fallen Angels”, and who recently featured in the thriller “Cold War”. For the highly charged courtroom drama, Yeung enlisted HK industry lynchpins Tsui Hark and Jacob Cheung as producers, along with an A-list cast including Aaron Kwok (who she worked with previously on the superb “After this our Exile”), Guey Lun Mei (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”), Chang Chen (“The Grandmaster”), Xia Yu (“Wind Blast”) and Qin Hailu (“Say Yes!”). Apparently years in preparation, the film sees Yeung tackling controversial material, focusing on a case in which a doctor is said to have molested a disabled patient.
The patient in question is Jing (Guey Lun Mei), a wheelchair-bound young woman who works as a piano teacher, tutoring the daughter of rich doctor Zhou (Chang Chen). After she accuses Zhou of abusing her during a medical check-up, court lawyer Tim (Aaron Kwok) is assigned as prosecutor, a righteous fellow who recently quit his position at a top firm to take on more noble cases. With Tim facing off in the courtroom against Freddy (Xia Yu), his ambitious replacement back at the firm, the case quickly becomes more complicated, his investigator Nam (Liu Kai Chi) uncovering more information about Jing and Zhou. Meanwhile, the case takes its toll on everyone connected including Zhou’s wife Jie (Qin Hailu), pushing Tim to think carefully about his motivations.
“Christmas Rose” certainly starts off predictably enough, giving the viewer a reasonable idea of where it’s going. Jing is unfailingly sweet, innocent and unfortunate, while Zhou is cold, creepy and spends most of his time glaring suspiciously, and so it’s fairly obvious that some manner of twist is in the works – not that the amusingly idealistic and naïve Tim seems to be aware of it. Thankfully, Charlie Yeung does a good job of packing in lots of drama and soap opera hysteria, and the film has a great many skeletons in its various closets, all of which come tumbling out to entertaining effect at appropriately timed moments. With lots of subplots and deceptions, though chaotic and lacking the focus that might have made it more tense, the film is never dull, and what the script lacks in finesse, it makes up for in enthusiasm. Things get pretty wacky during the final act, with some sneaky character manipulation and sudden revelations, and though the film comes to a bit of an odd and borderline distasteful conclusion, Yeung wins points for ambitiously tackling such tough subject matter in her debut.
Yeung’s direction is generally fine, managing to get the pacing right and making reasonable use of the courtroom set, despite a few odd touches that don’t really suit, such as an overuse of slow motion. The film looks good and has decent production values, and this helps to distract from any suspicions that it might have been better suited to a television special, with enough flair to suggest some talent behind the camera. The talent in front of the camera also gives the film a big boost, the all-star cast really making a difference, even if their performances are somewhat variable, ranging from amusingly over the top through to bizarrely straight-faced.
Of the leads, Guey Lun Mei comes off best, managing to make Jing an interesting figure and more than just the pity magnet suggested by the opening stages, just about successfully pulling off some of the later character subversions. Aaron Kwok and Chang Chen are both good value for money, and though neither are likely to be winning (or at least deserve to be winning) any awards for their acting here, the two both show enough genuine screen presence to make up for some of the inadequacies in the script.
Making the step from actress to director is a big one, and Charlie Yeung has done a creditable job with “Christmas Rose”. An entertaining and fairly well-made film despite its flaws, it stands as a solid first effort, and, if for no other reason than the impressive cast of big name stars, it should find an appreciative audience.
Charlie Yeung (director)
CAST: Chen Chang
Pat Ha Pat Ha
Kai Chi Liu
Yu Xia Yu Xia