Merry Christmas

Shenanigans are bound to ensue when a single father meddles with love and the holiday spirit in this merriest of Christmases.

“The happiness of this whole family is now in your hands.”

The other day I saw a movie called Noel. It was – as one expects – a Christmas film, but not a very good one. But I’ll ignore the saccharine writing, shockingly contrived plot and the best efforts of Susan Sarandon, Alan Arkin, Penelope Cruz and Paul Walker to bring up that despite its appallingly pedestrian title, Christmas plays almost no part in the film. A guy breaks his hand so he can spend Christmas in hospital, and Walker pushes a dude into a Christmas tree. That’s it.

I bring this up, because I was reminded of the way that the season is often touched upon in Asian cinema. Films like Tokyo Godfathers are set at Christmas, and the holiday plays a part in both setting up the tone and the themes of forgiveness but otherwise it gets kind of ignored, or left in the background. In Godfathers Christmas Day comes and goes midway through the film and it’s barely touched upon as a special day. It’s something I noticed here, with the quite boldly titled Merry Christmas.  

Karl Mak plays Baldy Mak, a single father living in Hong Kong with his three children Jane (Rachel Lee), Danny (Danny Chan) and Junior (Cyrus Wong). He’s a widower, unlucky in love and prone to constant misunderstandings and zany situations. Baldy is also infatuated with his neighbour Paula (Paula Tsui), a bar singer and babysitter for Junior. Despite this, Baldy won’t act on his crush but will happily coach his two elder children in their affairs of the heart, most of which involve Leslie Cheung in some way. Also it’s Christmas.

As I mentioned above the titular holiday season is only tangentially related to the plot. There’s not much (if anything) that links back to it in the way we’re used to in Western media but that’s quite refreshing. Like in my Tokyo Godfathers example above, Christmas doesn’t necessarily need to be the central focus of a Christmas movie. The more I thought about Tokyo Godfathers and Noel, the less antithetical to their Christmas theming they appeared. I started to realise that the holiday season helps set the scene and acts as a sort of invisible force pushing these characters to take the actions they do. Baldy acts more frivolously than he might otherwise, and people are generally more likely to act silly. And silly is exactly what we have.

The movie has no idea what pacing is, and it is constantly firing on all cylinders. It reminds me of a gag anime or something, where the jokes fly at a mile a minute with no breaks. Merry Christmas has the occasional break of drama, but they last about five minutes and are immediately forgotten about when the next set of misunderstandings come about. It’s a cartoon in the best possible way. And frankly that’s exactly what I wanted: a collection of constantly-failing whacky schemes and scenarios loosely connected by a romantic subplot and the general aura of Christmas.

The jokes are solid, if often mean-spirited but it’s not like it’s unexpected for 80s Hong Kong. Anyone familiar with the Lucky Stars, or really any of Karl Maka’s other projects are going to get exactly what they asked for here. What works is that while there is an overlay of cruelty throughout, none of it is taken seriously and so the characters are able to trade barbs and insults without coming off as uncomfortable. The way everyone bounces around happy when they hear Paula is crying out of jealousy for Baldy’s new “girlfriend” Jaws (Anglie Leung) is hilarious because it’s not a big defining dramatic moment.

Karl Maka is as on point here as he’s ever been, and slays with his physical comedy and line deliveries. He acts like a manic Al Bundy, constantly ribbing on his friends and family – but does so with an energy and good-heartedness that one wouldn’t expect from a Bundy-type. The immediate supporting cast are all top notch as well, and their overall chemistry helps keep the mood light and fun throughout. I also have to give special props to Cyrus Wong who does an astounding job as the mischievous Junior. I have no idea if the kid’s gone on to further work, but he certainly had quite a future in comedic acting ahead of him.

Merry Christmas is a rare family-centric comedy that doesn’t need to get cynical to get laughs. We don’t need Clark Griswold killing a cat or the Kranks doing whatever miserable bullshit they did in that movie to have fun familial dynamics and Christmas-themed tomfoolery. It’s just a fun time, and I reckon it’ll go on my regular Christmas film roster, alongside Elf and Klaus. But why are you guys reading this? Go be with your loved ones. It’s Christmas after all.

Verdict: Occasionally too goofy for its own good, Merry Christmas is all about spreading zany joy and achieves this admirably.

Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Violence: Lots of slapstick/10
Sex:  Lots of misunderstandings/10
Physical Christmas: 2/10
Christmas spirit: 10/10
Times I wrote “Christmas” in this review: 20
Office pranks: Do they get any work done or what?
Dear Kathy: Of course it’s an old man
She’s All That moments: Jaws gets one because of course she does

Merry Christmas (1984)
Also known as 聖誕 快樂 Sing dan fai lok
Cantonese

Director: Clifton Ko
Writers: Raymond Fung, Clifton Ko

CAST

Karl Maka – Baldy Mak
Paula Tsui – Auntie Paula
Danny Chan – Danny Mak
Rachel Lee – Jane Mak
Leslie Cheung – John
Cyrus Wong – Baldy Junior
Yuen Woo-Ping – Paula’s Cousin
Anglie Leung – Goldie Wong “Jaws”

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