What do you get when you combine martial arts, comedy, and an ancient Chinese game? You get Kung Fu Mahjong, that’s what.
Following in the footsteps of many Chinese comedies, Kung Fu Mahjong takes a seemingly normal game (in this case Mahjong), and gives it a heaping helping of physically impossible play, low-brow antics, and a generally light-hearted feel despite some serious situations. While it helps to have a basic understanding of how to play mahjong, there’s still a ton of entertainment value here even if you’ve never seen a tile, much less played an actual game.
In the first entry of the Kung Fu Mahjong Trilogy, a waiter/food runner with a photographic memory is taught how to play mahjong by a gambler. The two (along with some other folks the gambler knows) train to win a mahjong tournament, but get in with the wrong people, and soon have the mob coming after them. This movie is incredibly goofy, and despite some scenes that could have appeared in a dark and serious film, the whole thing is presented in a light-hearted manner that will have you laughing throughout its duration.
You may be wondering how a game as laid-back as mahjong could be adjusted to include fantastical elements that have little-to-no basis in reality. Things like identifying tiles based on their smell, being able to store tiles in your stomach and bring them up at any time, being able to whip around a mahjong table without disturbing any of the tiles, using mahjong tiles as if they were throwing stars…the list goes on.
The second film in the series is still goofy, but it has a slightly more serious tone. In this one, a legendary mahjong player’s husband abandons her to marry a mob boss’s daughter. Not wanting to be left behind, the legendary mahjong player decides to enter a mahjong tournament to win him back (mainly so she can kick his ass. Or, as one of the other characters in the movie put it, “don’t let her take your man, even if you don’t want him. Win him back, and then leave him!”) A lot of the cast from the first movie returns, although most of them take on different roles than they had in the first film. Beyond some familiar faces, there’s hardly any connection between the first and second films. Still, there’s still plenty of strangeness go around.
There’s also the third and final film in the trilogy, although we haven’t watched that one yet. However, from what we understand, it’s supposed to once again be a standalone story with only minor connections to the previous movies. I’d put the first two films in the “bad in a good way” pile. They were both entertaining and funny, although the edge definitely goes to the first one. You can find all three of the Kung Fu Mahjong movies available on Netflix Instant. Give them a try…I think you’ll like them.
Bonus: check out this kick-ass automatic mahjong table that looks like it would save a TON of time. You push all of the tiles into the hub at the center of the table, and the table starts sorting them out. While that’s happening, it raises up the set of tiles you had previously pushed into the table, walled up and ready to go. The table aligns the tiles by using little magnets that are impregnated in each tile.
Automatic mahjong tables can be found for anywhere between $800 and $1,500.