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Kung Fu Mahjong


(left) Yuen Wah, Roger Kwok, and Theresa Fu, and (right) Yuen Qiu

Year: 2005
Director: Wong Jing, Billy Chung Siu-Hung
Producer: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Roger Kwok Chun-On, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Wong Jing, Theresa Fu Wing, Jay Leung Jing, Lam Chi-Chung, Tin Kai-Man, Jerry Lamb Hiu-Fung, Lee Kin-Yan
The Skinny: You've seen it all before, but Kung Fu Mahjong is above-average stuff from prolific moviemaker Wong Jing. However, there are two large footnotes: 1) above-average stuff from Wong Jing is usually only barely passable, and 2) you must like mahjong. If you can handle the above two concepts then you can handle Kung Fu Mahjong. But if you don't like Wong Jing or mahjong, this movie will not change that.
by Kozo:

     Does anyone else think that Wong Jing uses Mad Libs to write his scripts? Hong Kong's leading schlockmeister recycles big time for his latest cinematic regurgitation, Kung Fu Mahjong. The film's title and elder stars (Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu) are an obvious nod to some little film called Kung Fu Hustle, but Wong Jing does more than borrow from Stephen Chow's leftovers. Wong also calls upon TVB star Roger Kwok to parody his own performance from the TVB drama Square Pegs, and the whole concept of Kung Fu Mahjong is lifted from every other gambling film ever made. Originality, thy name is not Kung Fu Mahjong.
     Yuen Wah is Chi Mo-Sai, a professional gambler who's more adept at getting his butt kicked than actually cleaning up at the tables. But Mo-Sai finds his golden goose in Ah Wong (Roger Kwok), a waiter at a local diner whose ability to hear and repeat complex food orders is Rainman-like in its exactness. Bingo, Mo-Sai has found his guy to go gambling with, but there are obstacles. The main problem is Auntie Fei, Ah Wong's boss and keeper, who doesn't want Ah Wong to become a gambler because, essentially, "gambling is bad." No one really wants to argue with Auntie Fei, because A) she can beat up bunches of thugs with her feet while carrying a mahjong table, and B) she's played by Yuen Qiu, who sports a dangling cigarette out of the corner of her mouth AND administers beatings on Yuen Wah as if she were still in Kung Fu Hustle. Wong Jing knows: if you must copy, copy from the best.
     Ah Wong, however, doesn't heed Auntie Fei's advice, and joins Mo Sai for some gambling action. Predictably, his beautiful mind works wonders at the tables, leading to the admiration of gambling queen Phoenix (Jay Leung, making a rare non-DV appearance), plus the ire of #1 gambler Tin Kau Gor (Wong Jing). Mo-Sai also helps Ah Wong get in with the pretty Cheryl (Theresa Fu of Cookies) using classic "Chasing Girls" techniques, i.e. he uses chicanery to pretend to be someone he's not. Like all Wong Jing heroines, Cheryl sees through his crap immediately, but she's still charmed and chooses to date the lying fool. Cinema purists take note: Wong Jing has just stolen from himself. He also steals from himself when Ah Wong gets smacked in the head, and goes all mental like Ko Chun from the God of Gamblers films. Ah Wong is reduced to an idiot, Mo-Sai gets beaten up some more, and the stage is set for a rousing "I will get back what I lost" finale, which can also be seen in God of Gamblers, A Better Tomorrow, and the story of that guy who just had his wallet stolen. Again, there's nothing new here.
     Not that it matters. If Wong Jing has a motto, it's quick, fast, and uncomplicated. Kung Fu Mahjong delivers all of that in spades, though it errs on the uncomplicated part by being about mahjong, which anyone can tell you is pretty damn complex. Wong and co-director Billy Chung dig deep into the mahjong playbook, and introduce us to obscure winning hands and gameplay strategy, some of it fake, but most of it oddly entertaining. If you like mahjong - and cinematic matches totally get you off - then Kung Fu Mahjong can be fun stuff. With numerous amusing variations on display (blind mahjong, Taiwan mahjong, and probably Swedish mahjong), mahjong fans will get their fix here, though the abundance of onscreen mahjong makes the film about twenty minutes longer than it should be. Add that to the usual Wong Jing time-filling (movie parodies, uneven and ill-timed gags, pathos that gets forgotten ten minutes later, amusing but also obligatory action sequences), and you have the epitome of fast-food Hong Kong Cinema. Kung Fu Mahjong: it's cheap, mildly appetizing, and ultimately bad for you.
     Still, as is common with Wong Jing, that's all he set out to do: deliver the cinema equivalent of a Happy Meal, only without a free toy included. If one were to measure a film's success by relative expectations then Kung Fu Mahjong is much more successful than either Divergence or The Eye 10. This doesn't mean it's a better film per se, but those who check out Kung Fu Mahjong and expect Kung Fu Hustle had better get some education damn quick; this is cheap, rather lame stuff for undemanding audiences and it's ultimately review-proof. Are you a fan of Roger Kwok and his work on Square Pegs? This is for you. Liked the sight of Yuen Qiu beating the crap out of Yuen Wah in Kung Fu Hustle? This is for you. Like recycled Chasing Girls gags and mahjong action aplenty? This is for you. Like Theresa Fu of Cookies? Well...given her screen time, this may not be for you, but hey, at least she's in the film. Wong Jing can't score on all accounts, but he seems to be batting close to .750. In Major League Baseball, that's enough to win you an MVP award.
     So once again, reviewing this movie is probably not possible. Yes, it's bad cinema, but it accomplishes what it intends efficiently enough to earn the classification "Not the worst movie you'll ever see." It's also not the best movie you'll ever see, but again, if that's what you were looking for then you should start looking for more realistic goals, like proof that Michael Jackson is a normal, well-adjusted human being. If you have it in you to see Kung Fu Mahjong, then it does what it should, and that's pretty much about it. This is empty, sloppy moviemaking but nothing is truly unforgivable - EXCEPT perhaps one moment. Wong Jing puts Yuen Qiu into Uma Thurman's Kill Bill togs for yet another The Bride vs. Gogo Yubari knockoff scene that should induce more groans than laughs. This is a gag that's uncreative and lame in its retread status...hell, if they did it in Where's Mama's Boy, then it should be avoided at all costs. Too late, Wong Jing did it, which once again proves that the man loves movies and loves ripping them off. Both his loves are present and accounted for in Kung Fu Mahjong - which means that from an auteur theory standpoint, Kung Fu Mahjong is really a love story, and even a successful one.
     Okay, now I'm really reaching. (Kozo 2005)  

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen