Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Magic to Win: It’s Elemental

If you’re going to borrow from Harry Potter, you might as well do it with pretty girls. This seems to be the logic behind Ip Man helmer Wilson Yip’s foray into campus magic. Frankly, it is a hard strategy to argue with, providing at least a baseline of entertainment throughout the unapologetically perky Magic to Win (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Macy and her cute teammates on Pegasus University’s women’s volleyball team routinely get schooled by their hot mean opponents. However, when a freak accident transfers the magic of the eccentric Professor Hong to her, their losing days are over. The entrepreneurial ladies quickly open up a lucrative sideline, charging to magically goose underdog athletes to victory. Things get a bit out of Macy’s league though when an invisible magician comes asking for her help.

Ling Fung is an earth magician physically dematerialized and robbed of his powers by a renegade fire magician. Despite suffering from amnesia, he has intuitively arrived at the university to seek Hong’s help. He finds Macy instead, which would be a considerable step up if she knew what she was doing. Presumably the fire magician is on his way too, because if he can collect all the forms of elemental magic, something crummy will happen.

After making an international reputation with the Ip Man franchise, Win seems like a radical departure for Yip. It is also appears to push the limits of homage in its more than obvious nods to Star Wars and the 1978 Superman movie. Still, he certainly keeps the proceedings breezy and energetic.

Though a newcomer, Karena Ng is undeniably charming as Macy. Martial arts star Wu Jing (a.k.a. Jacky Wu, so awesome in City Under Siege) has a steely presence well suited to big-screen villainy, but frankly, it would be far more satisfying to watch him kicking butt old school-style than hurling around a bunch of fireballs. Amongst several big name supporting players, Louis Koo is also notably amusing as the wine-soaked wood magician, Gu Xinyue.

Though it often descends into slapstick humor (it gets a little ugly when Ling Fung starts interfering with the fat kid paying to win the decathlon), the visual effects are pretty presentable. In fact, there is a particularly inventive battle between the earth and fire magicians, in which they animate objects from the pages of books (including light-sabers, so take note all young Jedi).

Win is what it is: innocent, goofy, cheesy, harmless, and sometimes endearing. Parents should be forewarned, there is a bit of subtitled cursing, but nothing in anyway explicit. For those looking for a Chinese film fix or a bit of fluffy escapism (but not for Yip’s Ip fans), Win opens this Friday (12/9) in New York at the AMC Empire and in San Francisco at the AMC Cupertino, from China Lion Entertainment. As part of a special promotion, patrons who like their Facebook page or visit their website can get a coupon for two-for-one admissions this holiday season.