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Kung Fu Mahjong 2


 


It is a type of comedy that attracts many vague names. Moderate names: broad, wild, screwball, burlesque. Exuberant names: wacky, daffy, zany, zesty, nonsense. Ambiguous names, not always meant in praise: vulgar, trash, rubbish, garbage. Definitely not character-driven, romantic comedy. I might opt to call it silly comedy, if that adjective were not so regularly wielded as a superior, automatic put-down in the sedate annals of criticism and journalism. In Chinese it’s mo lei tau.

 

If we were really bold, we would simply call it popular comedy – of the sort that emerged in the Hong Kong film market in the late 1970s, but does not frequently travel (except to disaporic audiences all over the world – no small deal), or receive recognition in the arena of festivals and cinémathèques. Is it simply too local, too specific in its references and sense of humor, to translate beyond the HK context? That would be a facile, indeed cowardly rationalisation. Because HK film comedy, in its least inhibited form, wields a mighty challenge to the polite taste-system that rules film culture almost everywhere.

 

Like every genre, HK comedy has its highs and lows, prestige pictures and cheap knock-offs, almost-auteurs and near-anonymous workers. In order to be truly experienced, it must be taken whole.

 

Case in point. Stephen Chow (or Chiau) is today the most respected of the HK comedy director-stars (for Shaolin Soccer [2001] and many other wonderful films), but the multi-talented, astonishingly prolific Wong Jing is equally deserving of a cult. He respects nothing: good taste, political correctness, aesthetic sobriety, the hallowed art-reputation of Wong Kar-wai – you name it.

 

A furious blaze of typical movie plots, frenetic gags and racial-cultural stereotypes (Blake Edwards’ The Party [1968] is a decent western comparison), this second entry in the spirited Kung Fu Mahjong series plays sweet variations on the beloved “apply the martial arts to everyday jobs and situations” formula of HK cinema (see also Chow’s God of Cookery, 1996).

 

Cherrie Ying stars as the ex-Mahjong expert whose marital crisis, due to a criminal femme fatale, compels her to take up the game again professionally – and, this time, completing her life-wisdom training with the Master.

 

Kung Fu Mahjong 2 is in the best HK tradition of sublime cornball.

MORE HK comedy: Kung Fu Hustle

© Adrian Martin August 2015


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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