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House of Mahjong

     

(left) Cheung Tat-Ming, Sam Lee, Rain Li, and Dayo Wong, and (right) Matthew Chow and Raymond Wong

Chinese: 嚦咕嚦咕對對碰
Year: 2007
Director: Marco Mak Chi-Sin
Cast: Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Cheung Tat-Ming, Rain Li Choi-Wah, Candy Lo Hau-Yam, Elanne Kong Yeuk-Lam, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Ha Chun-Chau, Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong, Ting Yu, Emily Kwan Bo-Wai, Amanda Lee Wai-Man, Candace Yu On-On
The Skinny: Interminable, incoherent, and damn near intolerable. The mahjong sequences can sometimes amuse, but the cheap production values, uninteresting story, and largely unfunny comedy make this a disappointment even by our incredibly low standards.
 
Review
by Kozo:

So far 2007 has given us two mahjong movies. Unfortunately, both movies have been less than stellar, with an option an full-on bad. Unlike the TVB-loaded Kung Fu Mahjong 3, House of Mahjong presents a familiar cast of Hong Kong Cinema faces, and teams them with director Marco Mak, whose output has usually been average to at least semi-decent. Unfortunately, House of Mahjong isn't one of Mak's better efforts; the film does nothing new, and provides the usual routine mahjong film stuff in an uninteresting and even unfathomable manner. The result: a sub-par motion picture that should only be seen by star-gawking completists or those whose fascination with Taiwan mahjong is so strong as to be frightening. If that sounds like you, then House of Mahjong may be your cup of tea. But if you're not a crazy fan of mahjong or one of these stars, then House of Mahjong may cause nausea, and possibly projectile vomiting. The simple message: this is a bad movie.

Still with us? We'll see how long that lasts once we start talking about the film. House of Mahjong mainly takes place at the Wealth Plaza, a crappy little mall with no apparent foot traffic and little in the way of attractive retail shops. No matter, it's still the beloved residence of such off-the-wall characters as Beauty Lam (Dayo Wong), a bra salesperson whose dedication to his job is so great that he absolutely refuses to sell inappropriate bras to his customers. Joining him in retail hell are paper salesman Prophet (Cheung Tat-Ming), goldfish hawker Sam (Sam Lee), and sisters Hung (Candy Lo) and Ling (Elanne Kong), who run a cafe.

Mahjong comes into play because their landlord, elderly fellow Chiu (Ha Chun-Chau) allows his tenants to pay off their rent through Taiwan mahjong games, which we learn about in a funny opening sequence as Hung, Sam, and Prophet attempt to cheat Chiu at the table. Seeing the three cheating at mahjong is actually quite funny, as their chicanery is both creative and sometimes surprising. If House of Mahjong can sustain that level of amusement, then maybe the movie might turn out all right.

Nope, before long the movie takes an extreme quality nosedive, leading to an interminable experience that could make an Andy Warhol film feel like the work of Michael Bay. The crappy hijinks start when the lovely Gigi (Rain Li) shows up at the mall and opens her own facial shop. The problem is her comely presence distracts Beauty, Prophet, and Sam, which leads to rampant jealousy from Hung and Ling. Gigi also looks like old Chiu's deceased wife, which is a detail of absolutely no consequence. Oddly, that subplot seems to waste a good twenty minutes of screentime, which should be enough time for a decent-sized bathroom break.

An actual plot rears its head when Chiu's son (Raymond Wong) gets pissed at the residents and decides he wants them out. This leads to, naturally, a mahjong tournament, with hidden mahjong master Lo Mong-Tak (Matthew Chow) hired to make the Wealthy Plaza residents lose their shirts at the table. Cue an hour-long series of mahjong training, games, and screwy around-the-table wackiness that's supposed to be funny, but turns out to be mostly tired and uninteresting. We'll elaborate below.

First of all, House of Mahjong is incredibly incoherent, possessing a series of random plotlines inhabited by completely nonsensical characters. The film features two-and-a-half love triangles centering around Rain Li's character, but none of the relationships are worth the audience's time or interest. The mahjong scenes, while punctuated with occasional blood-spewing or surprising sexual innuendo, are largely unfathomable because they pull out three trillion supposedly awesome hands of mahjong, all of which probably mean nothing to those not versed in Taiwanese mahjong's Byzantine rules.

What's left then are the performances, which are routine. Everyone overacts and makes funny faces, and nobody really seems to be having that good a time, save perhaps Matthew Chow, who tackles his badguy role with almost disturbing gusto, and Dayo Wong, who as usual seems to be amusing himself more than anyone else. Marco Mak directs in an amazingly tension-free manner, such that nothing feels that crucial or important. The final nail in the coffin is the epic cheapness of the production, which is notable for the spartan sets (Wealth Plaza seems abandoned) and the crappy cinematography, which is flat and inconsistent. Are you after quality cinema? Then don't go here.

Granted, it's Lunar New Year time, when it's usual to find slapdash cinema full of barely-developed love triangles, loaded gambling, and wacky inconsequential nonsense. Audiences are expected to go to the cinema and enjoy a stress-free brain-dead time, and House of Mahjong certainly seems eager to fit that definition. The problem is it can barely attain even that low standard, and doesn't bring enough energy, surprise, or star power to the table to compensate for its essential lameness. Thanks to Kung Fu Mahjong 3 and this film, 2007 has gotten off to an alarmingly bad start, making us feel a lot more frustrated than we'd like to be. Can't anyone think up better stuff to attract audiences than these tired genre retreads?

Even when House of Mahjong does pull out a funny joke or a tense moment, it's usually sandwiched between numerous lackluster jokes or hijinks that feel more lazy and rushed than creative or thought-out. Since so few films are made nowadays, you'd think they could maybe spend a few extra minutes thinking about what they're putting onscreen. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be happening, meaning we should all stay home and rewatch God of Gamblers or Fat Choi Spirit than attempt to enjoy the meager positives of either House of Mahjong or Kung Fu Mahjong 3. Some people out there may disagree, but Hong Kong Cinema needs to do better than this right now. (Kozo 2007)

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

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