Talented director Wilson Yip’s magical 2011 action/comedy “Magic to Win” is more in tune with his 2006 effort “Dragon Tiger Gate” than his recent martial arts-related endeavors. Strangely, where “Gate” annoyed me to within an millimeter of jumping stylishly through my living room window, “Magic to Win” captivated me, casting a cheesy little spell over my better judgment. The film feels like a big-screen adaptation of a popular teen-oriented television program, albeit one with an impressive cast and some surprisingly stylish direction. It’s still incredibly stupid and completely empty-headed, though, truthfully, I think Yip has achieved precisely what he set out to accomplish.
The picture spends a fair amount of time chronicling the misadventures of a female volleyball team during yet another embarrassing season on the court. Because the squad lacks discipline and self-confidence, they are consistently bested by their peers, much to the dismay of their coach. Unless she whips these kids into shape post-haste, there’s a very strong possibility she may be passed over for the vice principal position that’s recently opened up at the school. Things couldn’t look bleaker. However, their fortune takes a turn for the better when one of the girls collides with her professor in the middle of a ominous thunderstorm, an event which transfers his secret powers directly into her body. Not only have these newfound abilities allowed the team to dominate their opponents, they’ve also laid the groundwork for a lucrative Internet business. Makes sense.
Meanwhile, in another outrageously fantastical plotline, a Fire magician begins borrowing the abilities of other elemental spellcasters in order to travel through time, an event foretold by a collegiate screening of a crudely animated “Superman” cartoon. I kid you not. However, when said villain finally shows up at the university to collect some magic from the bumbling Professor Kang, both are surprised to discover that said ability is missing in action. Yeepers! We’re also given a poorly-written romantic subplot involving an invisible magician who can only be seen by the bewitched volleyball player as an added bonus, though it’s clear that this is nothing more than an afterthought to pad out the feature. In other words, pay no attention to it.
“Magic to Win” unfolds like a particularly forgettable episode of “Charmed”, where nothing ever really makes sense, even when you utilize the rules set forth by the film’s goofy mythology. For the most part, all of these magical shenanigans work in the story’s favor. Watching Jacky Wu throw fireballs at Louis Koo is always fun, even when the reasons for their conflict are nothing short of stupid. The flick has also been peppered with a bit of the same cheese that powered such childhood favorites as “Saved by the Bell” and “Clarissa Explains it All”, where logic and realism take a backseat to things like impromptu light saber fights and third reel CGI orgasms. All of this nonsense is executed in the name of good, clean fun, and, were it not for a few misplaced expletives here and there, this one could have easily passed for something sneezed out of ABC Family’s original programming department were it conceived in the States.
Wilson Yip has definitely made better movies, and I seriously doubt even he would argue with that. “Magic to Win” wasn’t really designed to change the world, and it’s probably not going to appeal to those who were wowed by the director’s “Ip Man” movies. No, this one is strictly for fans of cheesy Chinese comedies, or, alternatively, people who simply can’t get enough of the film’s young, attractive cast. In fact, the flick is so utterly harmless that I feel almost cruel for picking on it. And while I’m not quick to recommend to anyone who isn’t into Asian cinema and/or brainless fantasy films, I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to watch it again. Early 90’s Nickelodeon should be extremely proud. If this became a television series, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Wilson Yip (director) / Edmond Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Louis Koo