MAHJONG tells a tale set in Taipei, "the city of the 21st century," involving European expatriates and a Taiwanese gang. Director Edward Yang's film is remarkably uneven, where the good and bad moments exist side by side.
MAHJONG looks at the high and low societies of modern Taipei and shows how the two intersect. The story begins when the tycoon, Winston Chen (Chang Kuo-chu), owing money to the Taipei underworld, goes into hiding. Two hoods (Wu Nien-jen, Wang Po-sen) sent to find Chen begin looking for the missing
millionaire by tailing his son, Red Fish (Tang Tsung-sheng), the leader of a young gang that also includes hairdresser-hustler "Hong Kong" (Chang Chen); retiring Lun-lun (Ko Yu-lun), the group's chauffeur and translator; and the fortune-telling oddball "Little Buddha" (Wang Chi-tsan).
While the hoods keep tabs on Red Fish and the gang commits petty extortion schemes, several foreigners enter the picture. At the Hard Rock Cafe, where the gang hangs out, Marthe (Virginie Ledoyen), a young woman from France, seeks out Markus (Nick Erickson), a British interior designer with whom
she had an affair in Paris. Marthe is hurt when she finds Markus together with Alison (Ivy Chen), his new Chinese girlfriend, so she goes with Lun-lun and the gang back to their apartment for some sexual mischief.
At the club, Ginger (Diana Dupuis), an American with an escort service, hopes to recruit Marthe, but Lun-lun, who is slowly growing fond of Marthe, protects her against Ginger's designs. Red Fish, meanwhile, seeks revenge on Angela (Carrie Ng), a wealthy Hong Kong woman who had betrayed his father
many years earlier. When he tracks down his father to tell him, Red Fish finds Chen has been murdered. Angrily, Red Fish then plots to kill those responsible. Finally, Marthe decides to ditch Markus for Lun-lun, and the gang begins to break up in light of the new circumstances.
MAHJONG mixes genres, styles, and even languages with much more abandon than most American independent films (e.g., the work of Jarmusch, Hartley, and Demme). It's screwball comedy crossed with crime melodrama, art film crossed with exploitation pic, and English crossed with Taiwanese (and some
Mandarin). However, the odd jumble seems more like two or three films patched together than a postmodern critique of mainstream film practices.
Perhaps if director Yang (THE TERRORIZER, A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION) had asserted stronger control of the various elements and used fewer stereotypical characters, MAHJONG might have worked as the forward-looking mural it probably was meant to be. As it is, the scenes involving Marthe and Markus's
romance weigh the film down due to weak writing and Nick Erickson's amateurishly affected performance. (Virginie Ledoyen is adequate, but she can be seen to expert advantage in A SINGLE GIRL and LA CEREMONIE, both also in 1996.) Similarly, the subplot involving Ginger's escort service--however
titillating--collapses under Diana Dupuis's unconvincing portrayal.
And yet, most of the scenes involving the gang and the hoodlums are well acted, well written, and--for whatever reason--better directed (perhaps Yang is more comfortable with non-English speaking actors). In any case, the scenes of blackmail and revenge across generational and economic lines are
both funny and scary. MAHJONG needs some major pruning, but there's a good film in it waiting to get out. (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: MAHJONG tells a tale set in Taipei, "the city of the 21st century," involving European expatriates and a Taiwanese gang. Director Edward Yang's film is remarkably uneven, where the good and bad moments exist side by side. MAHJONG looks at the high and low… (more)