MAGIC TO WIN Review
It is unclear exactly what happened to Wilson Yip, but after a hugely successful run, from SHA PO LUNG in 2005 to IP MAN 2 in 2010, he appears to have lost his mojo. Earlier this year he attempted to remake Ching Siu-Tung's A CHINESE GHOST STORY, which resulted in a largely nonsensical muddle of CGI and demon-love. But it now appears to be something of a minor masterpiece when compared to Yip's latest offering - MAGIC TO WIN.
Again working from a script by Edmond Wong, the film stars Wong senior - long-time producer of Yip's films, among many others - as a university professor and closet Water Magician. Professor Hong accidentally transfers his powers to one of his students, Macy (newcomer Karena Ng), after they are both simultaneously struck by lightning. Macy now finds she is able to move objects at will, slow down time and other useful supernatural abilities, which come in very handy assisting her struggling volleyball team.
Meanwhile, an errant Fire Magician (Wu Jing) is on the rampage, stealing powers first from Gu Xinyue (Louis Koo) - a successful novelist and Wood Magician, and then the Earth powers of Ling Fung (Wu Chun), which renders him invisible to all but other magicians. Hoping that Professor Hong can help, Ling Fung heads for Pegasus University (hilariously named after the film's backers Pegasus Motion Pictures), only to discover that it is Macy who can see him, and not the professor.
While clearly meant to be more lighthearted than Yip's previous films - and notably his first film set in a recognisable present since FLASHPOINT - the script for MAGIC TO WIN includes no less than five powerful magicians, yet seems utterly indifferent to the mythology behind their origins, motivations and elemental powers. Save for an indrotuctory preamble from Koo's novelist - whose books on the subject are never expolored in any great detail - we learn nothing of how and why these magicians gained their powers, only that they seem to keep them secret and can lose them all-too-easily. Wu Jing wants them so that he can open a time portal and return to the past - the reasons, why, however are only revealed at the film's conclusion.
What MAGIC TO WIN offers us instead - and therefore what Yip and Wong think we will be more interested in - is Raymond Wong's moronic attempts to flirt awkwardly with coach Yan Ni, while Macy cheats at volleyball and tries to help an invisible Wu Chun get back to his greenhouse. There is very little action in the film, and what we do get consists largely of hero poses and CGI powerballs being flung at each other, rather than any martial arts. It is deeply saddening to witness the continuing waste of Wu Jing's talents, as he is forced to battle such unworthy opponents as 63-year-old Wong. There is a potentially interesting idea that the magicians can pull objects out of pictures and into the real world, which allows Wu Jing to escape by articulated lorry and fight Wu Chun with lightsabres - though these are rare treats in a film largely devoid of intelligence and excitement.
It is almost unfathomable to believe that the same team responsible for bringing IP MAN to the screen would allow such a half-arsed excuse for entertainment to appear in cinemas with their names attached. MAGIC TO WIN is set for a large international release next week and is likely to draw in crowds who rightly enjoyed Yip and Wong's previous efforts. However, they stand to be sorely disappointed by this exercise in derivative frivolity, that even has the gall to poke fun at IP MAN (watch for a clip on TV featuring Donnie Yen and Carina Lau), while serving only to tarnish the resumes of all involved.