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.
English srt (improved):
Subtitles:English srt subs