Dec 27, 2013

[Movies] Fat Choi Spirit (2002)

During our flight over to Singapore, I found myself digging up Andy Lau movies in the plane's entertainment options in order to preoccupy myself on the flight over. As much as there were an insane range of options of what to watch, I figured that this was as good a chance as any to take the time to watch a movie with subtitles.

I learned to enjoy Andy Lau movies back when Star Mandarin was a free channel across typical SkyCable subscription packages. My brother and I spent many a night getting into this Hong Kong movie or another, and Andy Lau quickly became one of the more recognizable actors that we came across.

Fat Choi Spirit is admittedly one of my favorites, and it's one that taps into the love for the game of Mahjong. And while it has been a number of years since I've last watched this movie, it's one that has really stuck in my memory for one reason or another.

Synopsis: Fat Choi Spirit is 2002 Hong Kong romantic comedy produced and directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai. The screenplay was written by Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai-Hoi and  Au Kin-Yee.

Andy (Andy Lau) is our protagonist and quite the compulsive Mahjong player. He's constantly on the run because of his gambling debts and his mother has pretty much disowned him given his contant Mahjong playing. Things take a turn for the better when he encounters Gigi (Gigi Leung), who for some reason brings him tremendous good luck once she enters his life. This leads to them forming an interesting partnership where she helps bring him the luck he needs to become richer than either of them could have hoped.

Clearly Andy has feelings for Gigi, and yet he refuses to formalize things between them. The reason for this is Gigi's horrible temper, which is most typically seen when she loses in Mahjong. She's the type of player who's likely to throw objects when things are looking bad for her up to and including flipping over the Mahjon table itself. Andy has stated that he'll be willing to marry her if she can get through an entire Mahjong game without throwing a tantrum. Naturally, this has yet to happen.

First, yes it is obvious that all of the characters are named after the actors themselves. Last names weren't needed - it was sufficient to have everyone just use their first names to identify one another. It's these sort of cute little quirks that help endear audiences to the movie even more, especially since it helps blur the lines between the actors and the characters themselves.

The movie is a total Mahjong-fest and if you've never played the game, a lot of the appeal may be lost on you. And you don't even need to know the specific rules of the Mahjong variant that they play here - even just a basic understanding of the rules should be sufficient to help you appreciate things. Beyond that, I'm certain a lot of the movie will be lost on you, especially given how many scenes involve watching the various actors play the game and even closely showing us their respective hands.

As a movie that sort of celebrates Mahjong  though, I've always felt that it really works. It manages to use the whole Mahjong premise to tie in the romantic comedy aspect and still balancing the two sides of the story. Sure, the level of comedy here tends to be a little slapstick with even a single grain of rice totally changing the way the Mahjong matches turn out, but that's just the way these Hong Kong movies go. And I have to admit that this is a brand of comedy that I rather appreciate.

Fat Choi Spirit is a crazy movie of Mahjong games, good and bad luck and a crazy girl to boot. Perhaps my love for the movie is more tied to nostalgia, but I'd like to think that you folks may find something to like about it as well. Thus I'll be a little cautious by rating the movie as 4 crazy winning Mahjong hands out of a possible 5, if only because I know not everyone can appreciate the game.

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