Saturday, April 23, 2016

Merry Christmas is a fun watch any time of the year! (film review)

Merry Christmas (Hong Kong, 1984)
- Clifton Ko, director and co-scriptwriter (with Raymond Fung)
- Starring: Karl Maka, Paula Tsui, Danny Chan, Rachel Lee (aka Loletta Lee), Leslie Cheung, Cyrus Wong, Yuen Wo Ping, Anglie Leung

Imagine Karl Maka, Raymond Wong Pak Ming, Dean Shek, Teddy Robin Kwan, Tsui Hark, Nansun Shi and Eric Tsang together in an 80-square-foot roomThe mind boggles at how much zaniness as well as talent there'd be in that small space.  As hard as it is to believe, the septet apparently did share a working space that small in the early days of Cinema City, the film company they established in 1980 -- whose productions over the course of a little more than 10 years would include the likes of Aces Go Places, All the Wrong Spies, Peking Opera Blues, A Better Tomorrow and City on Fire.    

Produced by Nansun Shi and starring Karl Maka, Merry Christmas often looks and feels like a crazy Chinese New Year comedy but was released in time for the December 1984 holidays.  Offering up plenty of laughs as well as a family focus, it begins with preparations for a surprise birthday celebration that quickly sets the wacky tone for the whole film -- and the festive theme continues all the way through this slapstick-filled movie, with certain of the later scenes taking place over Christmas and also on New Year's eve.

At times coming across as a loosely structured series of playful comedy skits, Merry Christmas revolves around Baldy Mak (Karl Maka, who is indeed bald), a veteran newspaperman, widower and father of three children: two of whom -- Danny (Danny Chan) and Jane (Loletta Lee) -- are hip teenagers; and the youngest of whom is a scene-stealing baby referred to as Baldy Junior (Cyrus Wong).  A caring father but far from the most enlightened or brightest spark around, Baldy would like his elder son to get romantically involved with at least one of his female schoolfriends whom he regularly hangs out with but strongly disapproves of his daughter dating the charmingly rogueish John (Leslie Cheung); this particularly since Baldy and the young man had previously met in less than optimal conditions.

The sub-plots involving the romances that develop between Danny and a braces-wearing lass who likes to be called Claude Francoise but who he dubs Jaws (Anglie Leung), and Jane and John yield a number of comic dividends.  But it soon becomes apparent that the main event of Merry Christmas consists of Baldy's interactions with Aunty Paula (Paula Tsui), the songstress neighbor who regularly looks after Baldy Junior for free while Baldy senior is out at work -- and who Baldy initially affects not to care for but soon is revealed to deeply love.

With so much of the humor in Merry Christmas being physical in nature, considerable credit goes to the movie's action director for helping make so many of its scenes so laugh-out-loud funny.  Yuen Wo Ping is best known for choreographing martial arts action (including that seen in Drunken Master -- which he also outright directed -- and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) but he shows here that he's adept at choreographing comedy moves too.  In addition, there's the bonus of seeing him making a hilarious appearance as Paula's cousin, whose arrival from Canada to make her his bride prompts Baldy to compete with him for her hand in marriage!

While enjoying the fun shennanigans and good cheer on display, it's sad to realize that two of the talents in this movie are no longer with us; with Leslie Cheung having taken his own life in 2003 and Danny Chan suspected of doing the same 10 years earlier.  I wish they could have experienced the joy and happiness that I got from watching Merry Christmas: a film which was not the most polished around even in 1984 but still is one that's well able in 2016 to make me laugh so much that I cried, and also appropriately tear up during its climactic heartwarming moment.

My rating for this film: 8.0


eastcoastlife said...

Why are you watching an old movie? :)
I like Leslie, especially his songs.

YTSL said...

Hi Ecl Tan --

Because some old movies are better than many new ones -- and because I can do so on a big screen in Hong Kong, thanks to such as the Hong Kong Film Archive! :)

I think Leslie's probably my favorite Hong Kong movie actor still -- and I enjoy listening to him sing too. One of the few Cantopop concerts I've ever attended was a Leslie Cheung concert in Atlantic City!

Brian Naas said...

Don't forget the Happy Troupe Girls! Cinema City was short lived but quite wonderful. Have this film on DVD but never watched. An 8.0 though? Really?

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Yes, "Merry Christmas" was a really pleasant surprise of a movie for me -- but then, I think I may like Karl Maka's humor/schtick more than you! ;b

Brian Naas said...

I sure hope so. About 10 minutes of Maka and I start feeling like I am 5 years old. If you pair him with Hui and Chang then he is almost tolerable.

YTSL said...

Hi again Brian --

Karl Maka worked fine here without Sam Hui and Sylvia Chang. But he did have the likes of Paula Tsui, Danny Chan, Loletta Lee and Leslie Cheung to work with in this film which, incidentally, looks to be considered a bigger Cinema City hit than "Peking Opera Blues" (including by those in charge of the Cinema City exhibition at the Hong Kong Film Archive, who gave it more mentions than POB!).