|Index||5 reviews in total|
Mahjong (1996) is in many ways Yang's greatest Satire, but has, at the
same time, the beating pulse of a real dramatic story. In plays on the
perception of Taiwan by foreign entities, urban locales, love,
father/son relationships, and of course, themes of business & greed
that Yang most vehemently loathes. The story is told through a variety
of different viewpoints, but we are centered on a small gang of
friends/hustlers, apparently led by Red Fish (Tang Congsheng), and
consisting of Luen-Luen (Ke Yulun), a gentle-hearted translator, Hong
Kong (Chen Chang of Crouching Tiger fame), a ladies man who is able to
charm his way into any woman's pants, and Little Buddha (the same actor
who played "Cat" in Yang's A Brighter Summer Day), a fake Feng-Shui
expert who is used in the gang's various scams. A French woman named
Marthe (Virginie Ledoyen) - Yang plays very craftily on the similarity
of the name 'Marthe' with 'Matra', the defunct subway system in Taiwan
that is milking the city of its funds - comes to urban Taipei looking
for her "lover", a British man named Marcus. The plot eventually shows
us Marthe's eventual relationship with Red Fish's gang (and Luen-Luen),
but also reveals a variety of interesting narrative twists and turns
concerning Red Fish and Hong Kong.
The performances in this piece are great, and Yang really seemed to get a lot out of his actors. A lot of critics complained that the acting from the foreign thesps were inferior, but their performances weren't bad at all, and added a diverse and invigorating "global" flavor to an otherwise "Asian"/Taiwanese film. There is a great quote at the end made by the actor who plays Marcus, where he reflects on how Taiwan will be the height of "western civilization", a political and philosophical reflection on Yang's part. Also, Nien-Jen Wu (he played NJ, the lead, in Yang's Yi-Yi) has a nice turn as a ruthless Taiwanese gangster/hit-man - you really begin to see the breadth of Nien-Jen's skill as an actor: he's really talented.
In addition, Ke Yulun (who made a guest appearance in Yi-Yi as the military-uniform-clad "Soldier" who Lily cheats on) puts out a great performance as a tortured interpretor, drawn by love to Marthe. Tang Congsheng (he's also in Yi-Yi, in a blue-shirt at the N.Y. Bagel Cafe) is also fantastic, and seems to be, in more ways that one, Yang's vehicle in expressing rage against financial/capitalist-driven greed.
The final violent outbreak by Tang Congsheng's character Red Fish is beautifully executed, and Yang could not use violence in a more perfect way. It is a great moment of cinema and is perhaps the most pure, honest, cathartic and emotionally-intense venting of range I have seen in any film of recent memory (or ever, for that matter).
Well, in addition, there are many nice city shots of the bustling urban Taipei, excellent humour (the part where Angela's trio of women, wanting to "share" Hong Kong and paralleling Hong Kong's gang in wanting to share another, previous girl is hilarious), finely-executed suspense camera-work, and some crackling dialogue. The dialogue, as sharp and satirically-witty as it is, is perhaps what I most admire about the piece. It constructs the film with a structure that is at once a strong narrative-driven story and a scathingly brilliant satire. This work may be hard-to-find and a very, very rare piece (as most of Yang's works are), but if you're able to get your hands on it, you will not be disappointed. I hope it is able to live on as a classic piece in its own right, because it is definitely one of the major works of Yang's oeuvre.
Mahjong is one of his overlooked gems, and the first in which he has
Westerners in key roles, examining the city of Taipei and its
inhabitants, their issues and concerns through their eyes as well, in
addition to more of those who are downtrodden, and looking to play
catch up to get their hands on a slice of the city's economic wealth
through whatever means possible whether unorthodox or immoral, as long
as it made financial sense.
Essentially the story follows the rag tag adventures of a quartet forming a loose gang of sorts, each relying on their individual skills brought to the table for everyone to enjoy the fruits of what their combined abilities can bring. Unofficial leader of the gang is Red Fish (Tang Tsung-Sheng), the brains who designs the various scams from fortune telling to gigolo pimping (of his friend no less), and one who is quite central to many of the subplots in the film, especially since he has father issues, with the rags to riches to rags father wrecking havoc on his family's life, yet being imparted some life skills from the businessman dad that you can say is in the genes to success in life, only for the son to exploit these skills on illegal businesses.
Key to the group's scam is Little Buddha (Wang Qizan), a bald punk who's the foulest mouth of them all, posing as a fortune teller whose interest lies only in the boosting of his and his friends' coffers, and who is probably the most superstitious of the lot, adamant that kissing on the lips bring about bad luck, something that influenced Hong Kong (Chang Chen), the gigolo of the group who uses his charms to seduce rich or beautiful women, and string them around his finger. Rounding up the quartet is the newcomer Luen Luen (Ko Yu-Lun), the designated driver of the group as well as the one with the most heart, struggling to reconcile with the immorality that surrounds him, though it may be suggested his lack of smarts and skills as compared to the rest, meant taking orders and being unable to break out of his economic rut.
There are three major scams in the film that unravel with varying degrees of success, one involving that of the telling of misfortune to befall their victim's car, which of course is engineered without their victim's knowing. Then there's the befriending of Virginie Ledoyen's Marthe only for the motive of trying to gain her trust enough to ultimately pimp her out, and then the largest running scam of them all which involves revenge on a father who had returned after a long period of disappearance, and that of a lady who had once cheated the Red Fish's dad, in order to teach both a lesson. Running alongside this are two bumbling gangsters tasked to kidnap Red Fish, ordered by an unseen creditor of Red Fish's father.
There are so many interesting parallels that can be drawn from this film, made in the mid 90s, with the Singapore that is today, especially in its opening commentary with a number of characters in full discussion stating their disdain about the foreigners in their midst, knowing that they flock to the country to enjoy the fruits that are to come, wooing their women, adopting the holier than thou White Man Supremacy attitude, establishing contacts for business, and as a matter of fact some being the rejects from their own home country that had made them uproot and go over to a new land where they cannot speak the language, since there is absolutely nothing left to lose.
These are similar grouses you hear from time to time from various grapevines online or otherwise, so in fact these are social problems, perceived or otherwise, that aren't really new to other parts of the world already. Then how about the mantra preached by Red Fish, and probably most of the businessmen portrayed in the film, as being in positions to influence others, understanding the human psyche of not knowing what we want, and waiting for others to tell us so, and lead us. Can someone say Nanny State to this?
And while some are here for honest businesses, there are those who are here to set up vice activities, as seen in one trying to befriend Marthe and offering her a job in what would be the world's oldest profession since her idealism for romance had brought her an unexpected surprise, and a revenue generating activity is priority to allow her to continue living in the growingly expensive city, if not for her friendship with the quartet, especially Luen Luen, which presents in itself the romantic subplot that Edward Yang, for now based on what I've seen, seemed to be unable to steer clear of, especially with the opportunity to present a cross cultural romance.
For so much that is going on, this film is the least convoluted, and showcases the brilliance of Edward Yang's knack for great dialogue for banter by his characters, switching effortlessly between Mandarin and Hokkien, and now with English as well, and of course the nice comical touches that come every other minute though not as much as A Confucian Confusion, but close. There are plenty of long takes that will always poses a challenge for scenes that boast complex lines, which of course bring out some of the best from his actors, and it shows.
The final act of the film is extremely intense as things do not really go as planned for one of the arcs, which come complete with a powerful revelation that hammers home the fact of how easily we can mislead ourselves when we rely on gut or the heart to live our lives, more heartwrenching when you realize the mantra that the central character preaches consistently. If you have the opportunity to chance upon Edward Yang's Mahjong, don't let it slip by!
It was the first edward yang's movie i've seen and from then on, I'd not miss a single one. It's very witty, but has a mild sad feeling at the same time. A bunch of young crooks in taipei: red fish, hong kong, toothpaste and renren, share a flat but they have very different character. They think they are smart but slowly, they realise things don't always go their ways. The dialogue is exceptionally funny, toothpaste's absurd never-kiss-women-theory would make u smile and shake your head. The whole cast gave a strong performance. No one should miss this film.
Edward Yang made his only bad movie (and I've seen them all) with this flick about young gangsters in Taipei and the scams they run. All the foreign actors are god-awful and that includes poor Virginie Ledoyen when she has to speak English. Most of the humor and purposefully over-the-top acting falls flat. Among the cast, only the very talky Tang Tsung Sheng and the subdued Lawrence Ko stand out. None of the relationships among the characters ever really gets fleshed out, and the movie has an extremely conventional ending. Ledoyen is of course extremely gorgeous so maybe Yang was distracted because he never gets a handle on the tone of this thing.
I picked up this movie expecting another slow intense tale of urban alienation in Taipei, and I guess i got it, Of course i also got a wacky comedy and a dopey yet sweet love story. The only real problem with the movie is some awful english language performances, but those people don't appear as often in the second half. Best moment-when the women Hong Kong is trying to mess with bring her own gang of female predators, and they are dressed and act like his own gang! 7/10
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