Review of Karmic Mahjong (China/Hong Kong; Xue zhan dao di, 2006), A Shanghai Dachen Cultural Consulting Co. & Zhengzhou New Ideas Consulting Co. production.
Director: Wang Guangli
Producers: Mona Fong Yat-Wah, Titus Ho
Screenwriter: Wei Minglun
Cinematographer: Lu Yutao
Art Director: Lu Yutao
Sound: Zhang Yang
Cast: Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Liang Jing, Liu Yi-Wei, Paul Chun Pui, Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai
Running time: 90 MIN.
Release in China: 2006.
Available at: http://us.yesasia.com
Shaoyi’s Rating: C+ (Average)
Director Wang Guangli, a graduate of East China Normal University and arguably a member of the disputed Sixth Generation filmmakers (the film actually sees the appearance of the Sixth Generation directors Wang Xiaoshuai and Jia Zhangke), re-emerged from his come-and-go filmmaking practice with this supposedly comic thriller, a China/Hong Kong co-production that is neither comical nor thrilling.
The film opens with the main character Wu Yuchuan (played by the Golden Horse Best Actor winner Francis Ng) running naked at night in a dimly lighted tunnel, a recurring dream sequence that is supposedly a reflection of the character’s inner anxiety over his inability in achieving anything significant as a man in contemporary Chinese society. His “career” as a car mechanic is a proven failure as he is lured into a smuggling scheme that ends with him owing the crime boss a large sum of money. His family life is nowhere better. Despite his handsome look and macho name (meaning “universe” and “big river”), he is physically impotent and mentally “weird”, as his Mahjong-manic wife dubs him. This all-time loser becomes a sunglasses-wearing and gun-pointing hitman in the latter half of the film, partly because he is talked into the belief by the blind fortuneteller (played by Chinese TV host Liu Yiwei) that he needs to “get rid of” the “petty men” in his life, and partly because he is attracted to Jia Jia (played by Hong Kong actress Cherrie Ying), a charming beauty who conceived a baby for the crime boss for money but desperately wants the son back. Of course, such a transformation is beyond his ability. He runs into more troubles and, in one occasion, he is even mugged in man’s room by a teenage girl. The film becomes intriguing when he attempts to poison his wife, whom he believes is having an affair because he can’t sexually satisfy her. The ending, of course, is more or less a moral lesson: doing good deeds will eventually pay off. The loser is a loser because he is still kindhearted in a society full of “petty men.” He regains his male potency in the end and the sex-thirsty wife re-embraces him with charming smile.
Wang Guangli is famed for his sharp-tongued humor in real life, but it seems his own sense of humor has a difficult time being translated into this film. It’s true that the film has some funny moments, but overall it suffers from too many plot leads and a sense of uncertainty about what kind of film he really wants to make. In several occasions, the film even attempts to strike a serious tone by inserting some documentary-style street scenes and lines such as “one must believe in something”. It would be a good case if one compares this film with the recent Chinese box-office hit Crazy Stone. Both films are set in Sichuan province, and both films are working hard to break into the business of commercial filmmaking. But Crazy Stone is simply more focused and coherent, and, most importantly, smarter, darker and funnier. Last but not least, Karmic Mahjong is also a miscast for talented Francis Ng and Cherrie Ying, who provide little moment for the audience to remember. The two mainland talents, Liang Jing (a onetime TV hostess) and Liu Yiwei, on the other hand, stand out in an otherwise failed attempt for director Wang.