Kung Fu Mahjong (2005)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-01-06
I imagine that Roger Kwok had a rough time of things on the set of “Kung Fu Mahjong”. His modest talent was simply overwhelmed by the difficulties in portraying Ah Long, a character that would tax the ability of a much better actor. The part cries out for subtlety. It needs to be underplayed and approached carefully. It is the job of the director to help an inexperienced artist rein in his tendencies for histrionics, to inhabit instead of impersonate the character. The director needs to help the actor interpret a role, keeping in mind that the camera exaggerates and amplifies every move, tic or glance. Great film actors understand this but it must be learned. Based on his performance in this movie Roger Kwok is not on his way to join Laurence Olivier or Michael Caine as one of the best.

Wong Jing had a large role himself, often sharing the screen with Kwok which made it difficult to keep an eye on other performances—if he was interested in doing so. There isn’t much indication from his long and successful career that Wong Jing had much of an interest in the techniques of acting. So Kwok started out at full speed with all the twitchy weirdness of Ah Wong on display from the beginning. Later in the movie when he is injured and becomes “retarded” there isn’t any place for him to go, no way for him to show his character was different after his beating than before. With that the center of the movie collapses, taking the enthusiasm of the audience with it.

Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu didn’t need much help since both were reprising characters from “Kung Fu Hustle” that helped them revive their careers. The extended screen time for Jade Leung was a real delight. Her role as Phoenix, the Queen of Gamblers, was a supporting character but her quiet professionalism was a welcome break from the frenetic activity of the leads and she looked great in her many screen filling close-ups. Theresa Fu is a very attractive young actress who played a very attractive young woman, the love interest for Ah Wong. There wasn’t much for her to do other than look fetching, which most capably carried out. Because I am one who worships at the shrine of Chingmy Yau I was a bit annoyed at Overbite Jan although Iris Wong is a talented comic actress who carried things off quite well.

However...

Despite all the obvious flaws in “Kung Fu Mahjong” there is no question that Wong Jing, when he decides to put himself to work, can compose, shoot and edit a scene as well as anyone. I don’t know how to play mahjong—-don’t know how one wins or loses; how one would bet on it or the way one would cheat, although the way that Tin Kau Ko cheated, by having an extra tile in his hand, seemed to be something that even a rank amatuer would catch. Most of the “mahjong” scenes in the beginning of the movie were dull, enlivened only when Auntie Fei or Chi Mo Sai did something outrageous. But the last round of the tournament, pitting Ah Wong against the evil Tin Kau Ko and his henchman with Phoenix Girl trying to keep things on the level, was quite exciting. Even though the actual play of the tiles remained a mystery, this extended sequence had some of the claustrophobic agitation as, for example, some of the games of straight pool in “The Hustler” or the poker games in “The Sting”. This was only for a few minutes, though—a wonderful scene that was a sad contrast to the slapdash style and content of the rest of the film.

Not recommended