The New Happy Ghost
I have seriously no idea what the title Magic to Win wants to conjure. It doesn't make sense and all it does is to imply the film doesn't either, which is just about right. However the clues may come from its Chinese title which suggests some links to the once-upon-a-time Happy Ghost series, which was produced and starred Raymond Wong, who gets another leading role here. It's about, in certain ways, spirits, magic, school girls and the competitive games they get themselves involved in, and that's it.
While Happy Ghost may have made Raymond Wong and Loletta Lee (before she became a sex siren) household names, perhaps that's what Magic to Win is trying to achieve as well, although this time to put Wong back into the limelight with his recent interest to reignite the box office resurrecting franchises like Happy Ghost and the All's Well Ends Well series into modern updates, but so far the effort pales in comparison to the originals. Those were simpler days with simpler expectations which only for reasons of nostalgia can stand up to a viewing today, and efforts to reboot those series with the same spirit, somehow doesn't cut it anymore.
It's troubling when the story adopts from various sci-fi fantasy films and stories, and the most recent being The Last Airbender, where magicians have powers that befit the various elementals they align to. Here, this is somewhat hazy, as the powers inherited don't necessary have to belong to the elements, and came across as generic bolts of energy able to do just about anything like a Green Lantern power ring. The story's basically driven by Wu Jing's Fire magician (another cliche, it's always the one wielding fire powers that are evil) wanting to steal the powers of the other magicians for reasons unknown, probably world domination, until the final act when the reason's unveiled, which you will go "so he went through all that trouble just for that? Why couldn't he just, ask nicely?".
This pursuit of the other magicians open up cameo appearances for the likes of Louis Koo and real life magician Tonny Jan, otherwise the film is essentially belonging to the triage of Raymond Wong as a Professor, Wu Chun as Ling Fung whose pendant enabled his spirit to be detached from his imprisoned bodily vessel and becomes the "Happy Ghost" so to speak, and that of newcomer Karena Ng as Meisi the volleyball player who inadvertently absorbs the Professor's Water elemental powers. Ling Fung looks toward Meisi for help because she's the only one who can see him, while Meisi and her childish peers are only interested to profit from her newfound powers. Very weak comedy ensues that seemed to be recycled from various Happy Ghost episodes, or may appeal to anyone under the age of 10. Chinese actress Yan Ni rounds up the cast as the volleyball team coach who frankly has nothing no primary reason to be here other than because Meisi and her throwaway cardboard friends are volleyball players.
Granted, the film boasts very impressive special and visual effects for a Hong Kong / China production, but still it's not something not already seen before, and ultimately it's the lack of a strong story that became its downfall. Stuffing the film with stars such as Louis Koo isn't helping much if he's only given a role that could be done without, and very clearly Magic to Win is only going to appeal to the Chinese market for its very obvious, direct feel good and overly preachy positive messages that will find its place in any moral education school textbook. This is something that's ringing alarm bells all over in recent films to come out of the Hong Kong market, granted that film production is a costly affair and that the money's coming out of the mainland, but films like these are just going to hurt themselves in the longer run if it continues to pander to whoever's funding it.