“You shouldn’t ask others to remember you but you to remember others”
This is an important film. Not only because it is a very good one that is gaining its own number on the list, but that it means that I will have to work beyond number 100. It is also the first time I think I have decided to write a review moments after the closing credits have gone up.
“Merry-Go-Round” tells three interconnected stories. First is the tale of Nam (Ella Koon), a young lost girl from San Francisco, who is diagnosed with late stage leukaemia. She goes to Hong Kong to meet a man she met online, Allen (Lawrence Chow), although he has neither any idea of what she looks like, nor actually wants anything to do with her. Nam finds work and companionship with a grumpy caretaker (Teddy Robin) of a coffin-house (where unclaimed bodies are kept with the hope they will be repatriated with their families). The Second is of Eva (Nora Miao) who also returns from San Francisco after many years to stop her grand-nephew (who happens to be Allen) selling the family Chinese Herbalist store. The Third is the story of why Eva left Hong Kong, and the young lover she left behind. Ella Koon also plays the young Eva. But don’t worry, it actually is not the slightest bit confusing. I have deliberately left out some of the details, but I guess it should be obvious that the stories are actually very tightly interwoven.
The film is beautifully shot, naturalistic but cut in a modern style. The soundtrack is mostly of an acoustic, folksy nature which I personally found both adorable and appropriate (but I have found some reviews that found it intrusive). The film is also populated by a fascinating and realistic secondary cast, which just add colour and depth to the whole experience.
It is a difficult watch to start with, it takes a little while to settle down as characters are introduced and placed onto the Hong Kong chessboard, but some 15-20 minutes in everything becomes clearer. The initial trips to the past are a little jarring, as nothing is done visually to show we are in the past, but again it quickly becomes natural.
Ella Koon is amazing. Ostensibly a music star, she plays both her roles to perfection. Nam is a modern girl – a little selfish, but also her condition meaning that she is also trying to do good for other people. I could complain that she looks a little healthy for someone on the last legs of life, but that is eventually resolved. Young Eva is a totally different personality, the fact she is played by Koon is actually totally non-distracting.
Teddy Robin is also fabulous – yes he is a cranky old man – but this is a much different character than that which impressed so in “Gallants” – this is a man who has withdrawn from life to care for the dead, in order to hide from his own disappointments in life. One scene in particular which he shares with Koon is enrapturing, as he explains the story of his life – he bares his soul for probably the first time in his life, while Nam looks on grappling to understand what this man has been through.
No-one is judged by the film. Even the wholly unlikeable Allen is redeemed when his motivations are revealed.
If I have a problem with the film it is only in the set-up. I needed more of a feel for the relationship between Nam and Allen before the main narrative of the film. I never really got a sense of their historic closeness. There is also something about the final (although far from unexpected) twist that is a little let down by the physical appearance of two members of the cast, but I won’t dwell and spoil it.
Yes it is a “circle of life” story – one of life and death, of history repeating. But it is both affecting and uplifting. Even in the surreal closing sequence we get happiness and comfort in remembrance of things past and of a hope of a potential future. Highly Recommended