Leaving its well-pedigreed cast aside, Christmas Rose is a bit of a tough sell. Movies about sexual harassment come naturally packaged with incredibly emotive themes of sex, gender and control that could prove harrowing for audiences. Moreover, this film marks the directorial début of actress Charlie Young - which raises questions about her ability to sensitively handle subject matter that has confounded far more experienced directors. The final result is neither validation nor indictment of Young's efforts. Christmas Rose boasts an absolute top-notch cast, but is itself a bit of a muddle whose melodramatic last-act twist causes the film to lose its way by the end.
Singer turned serious actor Aaron Kwok stars as defense attorney turned court prosecutor Tim, who righteously believes he can now work to convict rather than exonerate criminals. He's placed in charge of prosecuting a sexual harassment claim by pitiful wheelchair-bound piano teacher Jane (Gwei Lun-Mei) - a case that dredges up some very unpleasant associations for Tim. Determined not to let Jane down, Tim battles against slick defense attorney Freddy (Xia Yu) to prove her allegations that Dr. Winston Zhou (Chang Chen) sexually assaulted her during a full-body check-up. But things are not as they seem, and Tim soon finds himself caught in a web of lies, doubts and suspicions that could spell the end of his career.
For most of the film's running time, Young does a fairly good job of developing the relationships and tensions amongst all the characters. Viewers will find their sympathies switching from Jane to Winston as more and more scraps of circumstantial and emotional evidence are presented in court. The initial courtroom scenes are underscored by a sense of tension and even horror, as one alternates between imagining Jane as wounded victim and scheming antagonist.
It's a pity that Young can't quite sustain the ambiguity and tension all the way through to the end. Actually, the narrative of Christmas Rose collapses on itself in a courtroom revelation that comes out of left field. There would have been so much more to the film if it had dared to keep viewers guessing about just exactly who is in the wrong. Instead, it settles on a strange, uncomfortable middle ground that plunges the proceedings straight into overcooked soap opera territory.
What Young has definitely managed to do, however, is capture fantastic performances from her entire cast. Kwok manages to find something true and heartfelt in a pretty one-note role, while Chang glowers and broods in such a pleasingly ambiguous fashion that his innocence (or guilt) remains perpetually in doubt. Gwei performs what she's given wonderfully well, even making the more melodramatic aspects of her role more palatable.
But the strength of Young's cast can only go so far in papering over the cracks in Christmas Rose. While the film is a mostly engaging watch, it too often feels like an intensely self-conscious effort on the first-time director's part. Dramatic scenes are cut together with arty, dreamy sequences that have little bearing on character or plot developments. By the time the credits roll, the viewer might feel thankful that Young knew enough to get out of her actors' way - but also wonder why she didn't get more in the way of her screenwriter.
Summary: A great cast and concept let down by an overly soapy script.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
In the past couple of decades, DNA profiling and analysis has become the new gold standard in solving criminal cases. In this crime thriller, director Keishi Ohtomo (of Rurouni Kenshin fame) argues that it will very soon become the platinum standard: apparently, by 2017, the tiniest scrap of DNA will be able to tell us the length of someone's toes and whether they're secretly insane. There's a great dystopian premise in there somewhere, but Platinum Data is a puzzling conundrum that winds up getting lost in its own myriad twists.
Four years in the future, arrogant genius Ryuhei Kagura (Kazunari Ninomiya) has created Platinum Data, a DNA analysis system that allows him to draw an eerily accurate picture of someone using the tiniest bit of DNA. To the consternation of old-school police detective Reiji Asama (Etsushi Toyokawa), the powers that be leap upon Kagura's invention and begin cataloguing their population. Kagura refuses to even consider the moral implications of Platinum Data until two scientists who were helping him code his system are found dead... and his DNA is all over their murder scene. Thereafter, with Asama hot on his trail, Kagura is in a race against time to prove his innocence.
That's pretty much all that can be said about the plot before one heads irrevocably into spoiler territory, wherein dwell the film's increasingly weird twists. This is the kind of story in which the main character discovers that there's a great deal - metaphorically and literally - that he never knew about himself. Some of those secrets are more outlandish than others, and it's a testament to Ninomiya's skill that he manages to keep a firm handle on all the different aspects of Kagura's character.
The same can't be said of Platinum Data as a whole - it drifts in a self-consciously arthouse haze from political conspiracy to criminal thriller and back again, without ever really effectively tying all the loose ends together. Even stranger is the fact that, amidst all its twists, it can't seem to keep secrets when it matters the most. The real antagonist of the entire saga is evident from his or her first few moments onscreen, after which Ohtomo spends the rest of the film filling in the blanks in increasingly incredulous ways.
Platinum Data is frustrating precisely because it's hard to shake the feeling that it could've been so much more. An entire movie franchise could have been created around its gritty, worrying vision of a world in which people quite literally live and die by their very DNA. Instead, the film gets buried under its convoluted plot and fails to live up to the efforts of its leading men.
Summary: Well-acted but questionably plotted.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars