Ng goes batty in the confusingly-titled Karmic
Mahjong. Given a title like that, the expectation
is that this film revolves around plenty of tile-clicking
mahjong matches, with some sort of karmic twist to
insure that our hero wins the day. Hell, at first
glance one might even think Wong Jing had something
to do with Karmic Mahjong. Nix those expectations
immediately; not only did Wong Jing have nothing to
do with this film, but there's really not that much
mahjong going on. Some characters do play the game,
but overall little time is spent playing mahjong,
gambling, or having any fun like one would expect
in a movie with "mahjong" in its title.
As compensation, we get a tale of a blind fortuneteller
who goads a complete loser (Francis Ng) into trying
to kill his wife. Yay!
Francis Ng is Chen Chuan,
a part-time mechanic and full-time loser who decides
that he's the victim of a divine scheme designed to
make his life suck. Fortuneteller Blind Liu (Liu Yi-Wei)
tells Chen that he is beset by "villains"
who are causing his bad luck, and suggests in a not-too-subtle
fashion that Chen "remove" these villains
if he wants his life to stop sucking. Chen takes his
advice seriously, as his life is textbook crappy.
Not only does Chen have no apparent friends, but an
amazing screwup puts him into massive debt with his
boss, plus he seemingly has the personal hygiene of
a man who doesn't have a regular home. A shower would
probably cure some of Chen's ills, but the idea of
removing some villains is pretty damn attractive too.
Chen takes Blind Liu's advice, and decides that his
wife Ling (Liang Jing), who he suspects of having
an affair, is his number one villain. One spouse disposal
coming right up.
The problem: Chen is a total
loser, so becoming a righteous hitman is a little
out of his abilities. Another problem: his wife may
not be that bad. But that's one supposed rub of Karmic
Mahjong, that people sometimes get too caught
up in their own BS to realize "Hey, things aren't
really that bad!" Or maybe the deal is that fate
is really quite tricky, and will sometimes do a complete
180, changing your poor luck into good fortune. Or
maybe it's simply that you shouldn't trust blind fortunetellers
because they're actually quite bad at their jobs.
Or maybe it's simply this: Francis Ng is not a guarantee
of quality. After all, even though the man is an amazing
actor, he's made some pretty crappy Hong Kong movies.
Now that he seems to be starring in Mainland-produced
product, there's no guarantee that his role selection
has necessarily improved. Karmic Mahjong is
evidence of that assertion.
Director Wang Guang-Li
seems to be aiming for a comic thriller with Karmic
Mahjong, but his direction is too muted to fuse
the elements together, plus he wastes plenty of opportunities
to make the film darker or funnier. Francis Ng has
previously excelled at playing hilariously pathetic
dopes, and Chen Chuan seems to be one for the pantheon.
Ng does handle the pathetic part nicely, but the role
is too aggravatingly unbalanced to be that sympathetic.
Those looking for other HK Cinema connections may
enjoy the appearance by Cherrie Ying. She plays Jia
Jia, a friend of Ling's, and someone who Chen Chuan
views as a kindred soul. Jia Jia once sold her son
to a corrupt businessman (Paul Chun), and desperately
wants him back. After hearing of her plight, Chen
Chuan determines that Jia Jia also suffers from a
bad luck-causing villain, and offers to switch targets
with her. Basically, he'll kill her villain and she'll
kill his. Strangers on a Train anyone?
Hardly. If Karmic
Mahjong had attempted something similar to the
Hitchcock classic then there might be more to write
about, but actual thrills do not seem to be Wang Guang-Li's
goal. Wang seems to be attempting a film with a greater
message, but the details themselves are less revealing
than they are simply unconvincing. Chen Chuan's pathetic
journey seems to be heading to a very dark place,
but all we end up with is characters that we don't
really care that much about, and a final feeling that
could probably best be described as detached irony. Karmic Mahjong seems to be attempting tangible
meaning, but whether or not it succeeds is exceptionally
debatable. I would argue that it doesn't. (Kozo 2006)