Magic to Win

While Magic to Win isn’t being marketed strictly as a kids film, it’s hard to understand who else it could be intended for. The thing is, though, kids films are only truly excellent when they feature strong storytelling and originality – something which the best Pixar and Studio Ghibli animations achieve. Magic to Win is, sadly, lacking in both a strong, compelling story and a truly imaginative spirit.

The film opens with a narrator explaining the concept of magic – basically it happens when your brain is operating at 100% instead of the bog standard 10 – and introducing those who possess this magic, divided into the disciplines of Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wood. We meet Professor Kang (Bak-Ming Wong), a Water magician who appears to primarily use his skill to summon apples. Unfortunately, there’s a baddie around (the Fire magician, obviously) who has discovered that if he harnesses all five powers he can go back in time. He subsequently spends the film tracking down all the other magicians to steal their magic. One of his victims is Earth magician Ling Feng (Chun Wu), who does battle with the Fire guy in a library. Afterwards he turns into a kind of ghost and no one can see him? It’s a bit confusing.

The parallel storyline belongs to university student Macy Cheng (Karena Ng). One rainy night, Macy bumps into Professor Kang, then they get struck by lightning and she receives his powers (that’s just how these things work). After that, Macy uses her magic to help the nerds of the world succeed in sporting tournaments in exchange for money. She is also the only one who can see Ling Feng and has to help him work out what has happened.

Karena Ng-Magic to Win-Wilson Yip

Phew! That was a long and boring explanation wasn’t it? The thing with this film is that the storyline should be fairly simple, following Macy’s journey to understand and use her new found power whilst the Fire dude gradually draws closer. Only it’s complicated by the inclusion of Ling Feng, whose relationship with Macy initially provides some fun, sparky moments but ultimately fizzles out. And – most importantly – I’m not sure that the laws of this magical universe actually make sense, although this certainly isn’t helped along by the rather poor subtitling (exclamation marks everywhere!).

Magic to Win also borrows heavily from other films. Its fight sequences are like bloodless versions of the matches between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix in the Harry Potter films – although the one in the library does briefly feature lightsabers, which is awesome obviously. Really the only spark of true originality is to be found in the giant fairground prison that Fire dude banishes the defeated magicians to. This is also the location of the film’s climax and is revealed to be intrinsically tied up in Fire dude’s desire to go back in time. As might be expected, the villain wishes to go back and right a wrong in his past, but the event itself comes as rather a sweet, sad surprise.

Chun Wu-Magic to Win-Wilson Yip

This moment, alongside Ng’s charming performance as temperamental teen Macy, saves Magic to Win from being a total washout. Really though, much more could be got out of the premise. Macy’s discovery of her powers is completely underplayed, and her subsequent abuse of magic – by cheating at sports events to turn a profit – is never fully explored or reprimanded. At the last moment, following a hasty resolution to the conflict, the film briefly attempts to suggest that you should never use magic to win at volleyball tournaments. Woah. MIND BLOWN.

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