REVIEW: Magic to Win (2011)

A volleyball player inherits magical powers, and gets involved in an evil magician’s scheme to change the past.


By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on

Magic to Win

Original Title: 開心魔法
Year: 2011
Countries: China, Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Fantasy, Comedy, Sports
Director: Wilson Yip

Imagine a world in which humans are gifted with superpowers in the form of magic. Meet Professor Kang (Raymond Wong), a water magician who works as a university professor. One of his students is Macy Cheng (Karena Ng), a slacker who is a part of the university’s girls volleyball team. They are a crew of weaklings who can barely even scare one point in a game. One day, in a freak accident involving Macy riding her bike and crashing into the professor, his magical powers are transferred unto Macy.

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The first thing Macy does with her mysterious powers is help her team win their first volleyball match. Afterwards, they decide to use her magic powers to earn a profit by offering their (read: her) services to help people in need of winning athletic competitions.

However, her days of carefree and negligent use of magic is imposed upon by Ling Feng (Wu Chun), a spirit which only Macy can see. He urges her to help him recover his memories in order to get his body back.

It’s a race against time, as the evil fire magician Bi Yewu (Wu Jing), the one responsible for Ling Feng’s strange state, is out on a quest to abduct magicians who specialize in magic of each of the five elements (fire, earth, metal, wood, and water). Once he collects everyone, he aims to activate a spell that will let him go back in time to change the past.

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As you can tell by the trailer, the film is lighthearted and full of fun. That being said, if you approach this film with the same kind of carefree attitude as you would a typical made-for-TV kids movie, you will probably find enjoyment in it. It’s (kind of) easy to follow, not really requiring much of an attention span to understand.

Even the special effects are pretty well done. Well, for a film without the grace of a Hollywood budget, Magic to Win features some decent CG work when the magicians use their magic spells. The characters are likable and appealing, and the comedy isn’t cringing or out of place.

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But alas, Magic to Win is not without sin. The biggest crime that this film is guilty of is the cramming of every kind of genre under the sun into the short amount of time allowed in a film.

This film has it all, starting with the whole magic thing, the battle of good magicians versus bad. It’s like Chinese Harry Potter, but without the whole wizard destined to save the world thing. And a school of other wizards. And a believable bad guy. And character growth. Okay, okay — it’s nothing like Harry Potter. It’s actually more like Avatar: The Last Airbender, with the “benders” only having access to one type of attack using their respective element (more on this later).

In addition to the aforementioned works, the film also borrows elements from stories of science fiction (particularly Star Wars), underdog sports, time travel, and huge similarities to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (more on this later).

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The “magic” of the title needed to be refined (defined) a lot more. We are introduced to the notion that there are five types of magicians — users of fire, water, metal, wood, and earth. However, the only thing that we see the magicians do with their respective element was throw different colored energy balls at each other. Granted, the fire magician tossed around fireballs, and the earth magician channeled balls energy with sand pouring from their trails, there weren’t any real definitions or separations of any of the different magicians’ powers. Magicians seemed to know many similar spells for the most part, the most common one being the ability to form weapons out of pictures in a book. So in the end, the “elements” were just wasted gimmicks.

The film is pretty good at wasting gimmicks, another being the whole Sorcerer’s Apprentice story. Macy Cheng mysteriously inherits Professor Kang’s powers, in a way that totally ruins the Lucy-esque set up that says humans who can use the full potential of their brain are magic wielders. She eventually seeks the tutelage of the professor, who gives her books and such to study. Of course, Macy abandons her studies (read: that plot is not further explored) to help out the magician Ling Feng.

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And then the big bad fire magic casting villain comes and ruins the day. But Macy is the lead character, so she should be magically (no pun intended) able to dispose of him, right? Actually, something happens, and the magic is returned to Professor Kang just in time, allowing him to take care of the rest. The hero waits until the very end to save the day, right? But wait…then what was the purpose of Macy Cheng again?

Let’s also not forget how, soon after she inherits her magic powers, Macy and her volleyball teammates decide to exploit use her new found powers (telekinesis, mainly) to make a profit and help poor souls who can’t seem to win in any kind of sport. The amount of time they spend on this diversion would make one think that the center of the story would be the growth of Macy in her realizing that exploiting her magic for profit is bad bad bad. But keep in mind, shortly before this scene we were already introduced to the villain his kidnapping scheme.

So it’s like “Huh? What’s the story about again?”
Oh yeah!…Volleyball!

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Or maybe not. But the film does trick you into thinking that with the amount of time spent on how awful the girls are at the game, and how their coach (a big throwaway character) struggles to train them to be winners. But, possibly the biggest trick the film pulls on us is making think the big bad villain is…well…a big bad villain.

The film attempts to establish the villain, Bi Yewu, as a not-so-cliche fire-wielding bad guy, who happens to be on a mission to kidnap magicians (to borrow their magic, he says) in order to enact some mysterious spell that will allow him to go back in time. So the audience gets into a mindset that Bi Yewu is out to destroy the world. Or rule the world…one or the other. But, those are better reasons for a villain to be evil than Bi Yewu’s actual one. When the film finally reveals what his scheme is, chances are you will say “Wait what? That’s it?!”

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Any scheme in which the villain could have alternatively just, well, asked the heroes nicely is a scheme that makes a villain uninteresting. It’s as if you can see the villain smile and whisper “Sheesh, my bad…”

So, in the end, expect a fun, lighthearted film out of Magic to Win, which jumps from plot line to plot line as quickly and frequently as the speed of Donnie Yen’s hands, while trying to be everything all at the same time, but in the end becomes confused as to what it wants to be.


Watch this film…

…if you want to indulge in something as demanding in attention as a typical Disney channel movie.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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