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Kung Fu Mahjong 3 - The Final Duel

            

(left) Roger Kwok, and (right) Shirley Yeung and Roger Kwok

Chinese: 雀聖3自摸三百番
Year: 2007
Director: Lam Chi-Ho
Producer: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Roger Kwok Chun-On, Shirley Yeung Sze-Ki, Yuen Qiu, Nat Chan Bak-Cheung, Ha Yu, Patricia Liu, Yuen Wah, Sammy, Chan Bo-Yuen, Winnie Leung Man-Yi, Fung Sun-Yin, Wong Yat-Fei, Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Mars
The Skinny: There are a few decent gags in Kung Fu Mahjong 3, but elaborating on the film's meager good points would tire out even the most devout positive thinkers. Hysterical weeping could be a side effect of watching this film.
 
  Review
by Kozo:

Expectations for Hong Kong Cinema drop even further thanks to the arrival of Kung Fu Mahjong 3, a sequel in name only to the not-quite-classic Kung Fu Mahjong and Kung Fu Mahjong 2. The reason they made this film is obvious: in the film business, familiarity usually equals money in the bank, though the meager grosses of Kung Fu Mahjong 2 would seem to be red flag warning to any alert moviemaker. No dice, this is a Wong Jing production, meaning the moviemeister hits us hard and fast with as much cheap silliness as he can muster.

The benefit is that silly can sometimes equal funny, but the epic cheapness spells doom for KFM3. Not only do we have a cast devoid of proven cinema stars, but the production values are noticeably bad, and are marred with poor continuity and a "I heard it in the elevator" synthesizer soundtrack. The worst blow of all is that there's no kung fu. That's right: Kung Fu Mahjong 3 has no kung fu whatsoever. That screaming you hear is us pulling our hair out.

Okay, the Chinese title for Kung Fu Mahjong 3 doesn't actually mention kung fu, so that inaccuracy is only felt by the Chinese-illiterate. Still, given the lack of quality in the resulting film, we'll nitpick all we want. TVB actor Roger Kwok stars as Ken, a mahjong whiz whose luck with the tiles is legendary. However, Ken loses his mojo when he decides to date Nancy (TVB star Shirley Yeung), a pretty young thing who curses whoever she comes into physical contact with amazingly bad luck.

Upon first meeting Shirley, Ken is warned point blank of her cursed history, but he loses his mind and decides to start snogging her anyway, whereupon his luck disappears just like she said it would. Smart.His sudden run of bad luck puts his future in jeopardy, as he's supposed to be heir to a gambling empire. His ailing dad (Ha Yu) can't very well leave the casinos to his out-of-luck son, so the consensus is that dad's hot young wife Sophie (Patricia Liu) should take over the biz. Unfortunately, Sophie is in league with rat bastard Bowie (Chan Bo-Yuen), meaning the fix is in to take over Ken's family business. Can Ken get back his luck in time to take on Bowie and Sophie at the final mahjong duel? And will Chan Bak-Cheung manage to ruin the film with his trademark annoying presence?

To answer that last question, Chan Bak-Cheung doesn't ruin the film, because the filmmakers do all the work for him. Kung Fu Mahjong 3 doesn't start off with much promise - it's noticeably cheap, glacially paced, and features an appearance by Sammy - but at least the plot seems to hit its generic gambling movie marks fairly well. However, the bottom drops out when Ken has to get his luck back. He goes to Chan Bak-Cheung, who plays out-of-luck gambler Grand Slam Ben, who now teaches gambling addicts to quit. His method: forcing them to lose on fixed games until they get sick of it.

Obviously, Ken can't be taught to lose because he still has to win the final duel, so Ben teaches Ken the virtue of positive thinking and befriending the mahjong tiles, which leads to numerous scenes of Ken acting in a "glass half-full" manner. Get beaten up? Laugh it off. Get a crappy hand at mahjong? Smile through it. Win with only 1 or 2 points instead of the usual 8-10? Smile and thank your mahjong tiles for helping you out, preferably with sweet words and even some light petting of the tiles. The message foisted upon the audience (besides get intimate with your mahjong tiles) is basically this: lower your expectations and even a complete disaster (like maybe this movie) can be appreciated. It's great that the movie attempts to enlighten us with the power of positive thinking, but this is a lesson that one can usually get for free. Assuming that you paid for this movie, you should be owed more than a counseling pep talk.

But you won't get it. Kung Fu Mahjong 3 never gets funnier or more interesting, leaving the audience with a few things to ponder. First of all, did Kung Fu Mahjong 2 really make enough money to warrant this sequel? Number two, where is the logic in all of this? Ken loses his luck thanks to Nancy, but by putting on a positive attitude he's supposed to overcome her supposedly unbeatable curse AND win a mahjong tournament against a bunch of incredibly skilled players. How exactly does that work? And why are we wasting time even debating the logic of a Wong Jing mahjong movie? And finally, are people really fooled into thinking this sort of cheap, unimaginative stuff is passable cinema anymore?

Maybe once upon a time it would work because they threw in nifty action and/or stunts, plus featured more stars per acre than a Hollywood rehab clinic. But those were proven stars with long cinema track records. Here, we only get popular TVB names, which may interest local audiences but not the international ones, who won't grow to like any of these newer stars if they're packaged in such tired stuff. The familiar faces don't fare much better; the pairing of Yuen Qiu and Yuen Wah has little novelty left, and the duo doesn't even meet in this film as Yuen Wah only has a minor cameo. Chan Bak-Cheung is good for a couple of laughs, but his ghastly dyed-blond hair could be funnier than he is. It's a sad state of affairs here.

At this point in a review, we usually drag out some positives, like saying that the lead actors are charismatic or likable, or that there's a gut-busting good joke midway through the film. We won't be doing that here. It's not because the actors are necessarily bad or that there aren't any decent jokes. No, we won't dig for KFM3's positives because we refuse to give into the film's force-fed notion that a glass should be viewed as half-full. It makes no sense that a chipper attitude would enable a luckless individual to win a winner-take-all mahjong tournament, so why should we apply that logic to our subpar moviegoing experience? True, cheap cinema like this likely serves a purpose to undemanding audiences accustomed to the idea that Hong Kong produces crap, but given the state of the cinema, wouldn't it be better to actually try? Ditch KFM3 and try for some new comedy formula that hasn't been seen, and has a better possibility of succeeding. Hong Kong Cinema needs reinvention, though we may have said that back in 1999, too.

Then again, if they did achieve success with a new comedy formula, then they'd probably run that into the ground too with umpteen sequels that have no business being made. Sigh. The overwhelming frustration conjured up by this film could make a person swear off Hong Kong movies for good. So let's look at bright side: this movie's official English title is Kung Fu Mahjong 3 - The Final Duel. That title implies that there WON'T be a Kung Fu Mahjong 4, a notion that somehow puts an extra spring into our step. Message to Wong Jing: we've never asked you to keep a promise before, but we're asking now. Let this series die. (Kozo 2007)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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