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The Merger

Frankie Lam and Rachel Lam in The Merger.
Chinese: 我們停戰吧  
Year: 2015
Director: Jimmy Luk
Producer: Frankie Lam Man-Lung, Rachel Lam Hei-Tung, Tony Wong Yuk-Long, Raymond Wong Bak-Ming

Rachel Lam Hei-Tung


Frankie Lam Man-Lung, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Rachel Lam Hei-Tung, Kathy Yuen, Pinky Cheung Man-Chi, Charles Ying Cheung-Yau, Meiki Wong, Samuel Chan Kwok-Fung, Tony Wong Yuk-Long

The Skinny:

Ambitious but unconvincing drama about a student-teacher romance and how the student involved was super amazing. Weird artistic interludes, a shifting tone and odd performances only complicate matters. A good try if not an actual good film.

by Kozo:

Ambitious is probably the best word to describe The Merger. Director Jimmy Luk’s drama mixes a forbidden love story with historical references and performance art, with the artistic pretensions hurting what should be a workable story. Or maybe it’s the reverse, and it’s the story that drags down the pretentious stuff. Hell, maybe they drag each other down. The film opens in 2012 with university students in Hong Kong protesting the demolition of the school library. They unfortunately fail, leaving teacher Chan Ga-Kern (Patrick Tam) to empty the library of its books over the summer holiday along with student Yip Ga-Ga (Kathy Yuen). Their relationships gets off to a rocky start since Chan possesses an “allergy” to women and itches furiously when Ga-Ga is in the same room. This character detail actually has little to do with the rest of the film so presumably it counts as comedy.

Ga-Ga is a sassy HK girl who has the cartoonish tic of exhaling while pouting – a mannerism shared by her deceased mother Yip Heung-Heung (Rachel Lam). Ga-Ga knows very little about Heung-Heung because she gave up Ga-Ga as a baby. The library may hold some secrets about Heung-Heung, since she used it as a teen, which is why Ga-Ga chooses to volunteer there during her summer holiday. However, Ga-Ga should start her search for mom with Ga-Kern because he was actually enamored of Heung-Heung many years back. Heung-Heung never dated Ga-Kern, but flashbacks set in 1992 tell us that the younger Ga-Kern (Charles Ying) was a teaching assistant to Ku Wah-Son (Frankie Lam), who – you guessed it – was Yip Heung-Heung’s teacher. Also, Heung-Heung’s classmate Bao Choi-Yee (Meiki Wong in 1992, Pinky Cheung in 2012) is now Ga-Ga’s foster mother. Hope you’re writing all these connections down.

Choi-Yee and Ga-Kern hover around Heung-Heung, who’s got charismatic bad girl traits, but neither is given much of a story. The big deal is Heung-Heung’s relationship with Ku Wah-Son, who starts as Heung-Heung’s mentor before becoming her lover. Their relationship leads to issues that you should expect if you understand common social mores or have watched Japanese dramas. If not, then I envy your naiveté. Regardless, the characters have defined traits that help set up a connection, and tropes are tropes because they generally do work. However, the relationship ends up feeling pre-programmed and self-important, and lacking spontaneity or surprise. The clichés hit an alarming and extreme high when Wah-Son tells Heung-Heung, “I just want you to forgive yourself and be a nice girl.” This is a story about how a wayward girl and an older guy find love and heal each other only to have it torn away by society frowning on them. You could write this story too.

Actually, maybe not. Besides its tale of forbidden love, The Merger features images and tableaus representing dark Chinese historical events. These moments are interspersed throughout and feature stark details – naked mannequins, birdcages, ominous Japanese armor, crying, blood – all accompanied by portentous presentation, but the effect confuses more than illuminates. Given the dark imagery, it sometimes looks like The Merger will become a horror film, though the real intent is to draw a parallel between Chinese history and a teacher-student romance – a pretentious goal that’d be tough for any filmmaker to accomplish. These artistic asides do add points for audience engagement with the film, but the moments need stronger stuff around them. It’s an exaggerated example, but you shouldn’t dress up a Wong Jing film with interpretive dance interludes because the lousy filmmaking will nullify any value the dance offers.

The Merger introduces too many details that only obfuscate its intent. For example, Ga-Kern is given quirky traits and lots of screentime, but he has no personal goal or arc, and basically serves as a screenwriter testament to Heung-Heung’s wonder. Besides stalking her out of extreme admiration for her awesomeness, he participates in a cringe-worthy moment when he performs Heung-Heung’s (and Ga-Ga’s) pout + exhale tic repeatedly as a means of showing solidarity. Patrick Tam has always been an interesting actor but director Jimmy Luk fails to rein him in and he sometimes goes too far. Kathy Yuen has cute appeal but little depth, while Frankie Lam is appropriately serious if not a little wooden as compromised teacher Ku Wah-Son. As Yip Heung-Heung, Rachel Lam covers a wide range of emotions well, though her performance is occasionally undisciplined. At times, she seems larger than life, which appears more like wishful thinking than fact.

Ultimately, The Merger positions itself as a hagiography of Yip Heung-Heung. Besides the narrative being about revealing her past, everyone in the film is fascinated with her, key points in her life are compared to tragic Chinese history, and her death occurs during an important Hong Kong crisis and involves her martyrdom. Besides playing Heung-Heung, Rachel Lam is the film’s co-producer and sole writer, and she deserves some credit for her ambition. Lam is a graduate of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts who’s managed to be the driving creative force behind her own starring vehicle at a relatively young age – these things do not happen often. And yet, she falls into one of Hong Kong Cinema’s biggest traps: placing meaning over everything else. The Merger has a solid base story but it doesn’t convince that Heung-Heung is really worthy of all this admiration. Had it done that I might be singing a different tune. (Kozo, 10/2015)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also available on Blu-ray Disc
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