Download Karmic Mahjong
Francis 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)