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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Fat Choy Spirit  



 

Fat Choy Spirit

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Chinese Title: Lik goo lik goo san nin choi, (Ligu Ligu Xin Nian Cai)
Directors: Johnny To, Wai Ka-Fai
Writing Credits: Au Kin Yee, Wai Ka-Fai
Cast: Andy Lau, Gigi Leung, Louis Koo, Lau Ching Wan, Cherrie Ying
Genre: Comedy
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Year Released: 2002
Rating: **½ (out of four stars)

Fat Choy Spirit (Ligu Ligu Xin Nian Cai) is yet another Chinese New Year movie from Hong Kong, and as such, it doesn’t have a deep plot or fleshed-out characters. Its sole purpose is to entertain, and in this aspect Fat Choy Spirit does not disappoint – however, due to the mahjong theme of the film, audiences without prior knowledge of the game may find themselves out of their depth.

Dehua (Andy Lau) is a natural at mahjong – no matter how terrible his tiles are in the beginning, he is always able to turn his fortunes around and win big. However, Dehua is less of a winner when it comes to his personal life. He was driven out by his mother years back when his gambling habit caused them to lose their house, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Yongqi (Gigi Leung) still has issues with controlling her temperament. By chance, Dehua meets his mother again, but finds out that she is suffering from dementia.

To help her illness, Dehua encourages her to play mahjong – to the horror of brother Tianle (Louis Ku), a geeky programmer who has incredible luck, but swears off gambling because of Dehua. However, he falls into a trap laid by Cai-er (Ying Cai-er) and a bunch of con men led by Qingyun (Liu Qingyun), and loses heavily at the mahjong tables. Dehua steps in to avenge his brother’s loss, but his luck takes a downward spiral after Yongqi, rejected once again by Dehua, puts a curse on him. How will Dehua be able to come back from his losing streak to save his wealth, his family, and change Yongqi for the better?

As can clearly be seen, Fat Choy Spirit has a pretty mediocre plot – it basically strings a series of jokes together, interspersed with mahjong sequences. The script seems so secondary in importance that the writers even skipped creating names, instead calling everyone by their real names. There is also a completely ridiculous side plot where Gigi Leung goes for breast augmentation surgery, and walks around the latter half of the film with a pair of fake breasts. It isn’t as "mo lei tou" (slapstick) as Chinese Odyssey 2002, but it does come pretty close at times.

This is also not an actor’s movie, as the acting is secondary to the scenarios. Almost all the actors have shown their thespian talents in other movies (especially Andy Lau and Liu Qingyun), but if you come into Fat Choy Spirit looking for great acting, you will be disappointed. That said, no one actually expects quality acting from a Chinese New Year movie, do they?

What’s truly interesting, and potentially alienating, about Fat Choy Spirit is the mahjong sequences. For players of mahjong, these scenes are simply interesting to look at, because the winning tile combinations in the show are all pretty difficult to attain in real life. The final sequence also features one mahjong game that truly reflects the complexity behind the game, and impresses solely on technical expertise. For audiences who are not familiar with the game, however, these scenes become totally inaccessible. It won’t be totally boring for these viewers, but it certainly will take depth away from what is already a shallow movie.

Final Word: Knowledge of mahjong is almost a prerequisite. This is also a show that doesn’t need to be enjoyed on the big screen (read: go get the DVD).