Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai obviously have to pay the bills,
and to achieve that they've given us their latest commercial
flick: Fat Choi Spirit. A made to order Lunar New Year
product, this fluffy escapade features big stars, genial comedy,
and loads and loads of mahjong. That's right, this film is
so overloaded with tile-clicking goodness that if you don't
understand mahjong then you'll probably be completely lost.
If not, the movie may still offer some charms lost to the
Andy Lau stars as Tak-Wah, a "Mahjong
Warrior" whose addiction to mahjong caused the eventual
bankruptcy of his family. However, he managed to turn his
game around when he was blessed by Wing-Kei (Gigi Leung).
Wing-Kei is a sweet girl who'll do anything for Tak-Wah, to
the detriment of anyone who gets in her way. Tak-Wah would
like to marry her, but only if she cleans up her act, which
is tough going.
Tak-Wah is reunited with his mom
(Bonnie Wong) and brother Tin-Lok (Louis Koo) when Tin-Lok's
Internet firm goes belly up. Tak-Wah lets them stay at his
opulent mansion while he goes about his usual mahjong ways.
However, Tin-Lok hates mahjong because it was the cause of
their first bankruptcy, and swears not to be involved with
it in any way. Then self-styled "Master of Mahjong"
Ching-Wan (Lau Ching-Wan) shows up to swindle the two brothers,
but Tak-Wahs' amazing mahjong powers seem to have left him.
Yep, it definitely sounds like Lunar
New Year madness, and lazy Lunar New Year madness at that.
Aside from leaning on overused mahjong hijinks, Wai Ka-Fai
and the Milky Way writers have decided to christen each character
with the exact same name as the actor playing them. The plot
is haphazard and given to non-existent character development
and abrupt resolution (i.e., the weak romance plot between
Louis Koo and Cherrie Ying). Also, the acting is loose and
without any real direction. The script is occasionally clever,
but also typically nonsensical.
What's left to save the picture are
the stars and Johnnie To's direction, which manages some measure
of restraint. Andy Lau and Gigi Leung essentially carry the
picture, as nearly every other actor is shunted aside for
their primary romance plot. The chemistry is there, but whether
or not any of this affects you depends entirely on how much
you liked the actors before they ever appeared in the film. Fat Choi Spirit is the epitome of quick, cheap Hong
Kong entertainment. It helps that above-average talent worked
on the film, but it still doesn't mask the film's ultimate
problem: it's crap.
This doesn't mean that the film is
necessarily bad. It does its job for its target audience and
never purports to be anything more than that. I guess my disappointment
comes from the fact that Johnnie To directed this movie, and
Andy Lau and Lau Ching-Wan starred in it. To expect them to
come up with Running Out of Time redux is unfair because
they clearly didn't intend that. They achieved everything
they intended to, which means it's up to audiences to decide
whether they like these types of movies or not. A great many people obviously do
like these movies or they wouldn't even bother making them.
In that case, Fat Choi Spirit is resounding success.
However, that mentality is also what keeps Wong Jing in business,
so sometimes it might be wise to draw the line somewhere.
For me, I found Fat Choi Spirit occasionally amusing,
and that's about it. (Kozo 2002)