mahjongbelatedly reviewing lust, caution, the element i most woke up to was probably the mah jongg, a game my family played a little when i was a teen — we had a very strange set made not of ivory-bamboo or fake plastic equivalent but some curious crumbly black brick composite

as a game it has several evocative elements: problem being their evocativeness is often add-on orientalism introduced into the western version of the game; chinese mah jongg (as we saw in the film) is a fast-played social gambling game; i imagine ang lee had layered in certain plot/atmosphere/subtext elements which will have been lost on all non-players (not that i spotted any) (not that i really consider myself a player, tho i do sorta kinda remember the rules)

mahjong2A: evocativeness, non-bogus and otherwise

The game itself is a bit like canasta: you have a hand of 13 tiles only you can see, you draw from a pack (except it’s the great wall of china) and discard onto a pile; the next player can either pick up your discard or pick up from the wall — the most basic hand is four sets of three and a pair, though there are all kinds of variant…

The shuffling is called the twittering of the sparrows and this is presumably non-bogus, since mah jongg means “sparrow game” or “sparrow tiles” — it’s called this because proper tiles chirp and clatter in a birdlike way when you swirl them on the table

The tiles are ordered (by everyone, very efficiently and quickly if they are practiced players) into a square of four touching walls (each two rows high and 18 long): this is the great wall of china, and you ensure the walls touch to keep the devils out

i’m quoting from the little book of rules i have, by one max robertson, pub. 1938, reprinted 1968: we bought it opposite the british museum after the whole family had seen the MUMMY (except i didn’t dare look at it just in case!) in 1971 or so (also we bought two nice little furry chinese dragons on cardboard bases but they came to pieces eventually)

anyway the book is mainly given over to “special hands”, which the chinese don’t use (or only some):

ones they do use:
UNIQUE WONDER: or 13 Grades of Imperial Treasure
One each of the 1s and 9s in all three suits, one each of the 4 winds, one each of the 3 dragons, one of thesde paired to go out
All tiles must be green: viz 2s, 3s, 4,s, 6s or 8s from the bamboo suit and plus MUST HAVE 3 green dragon!: usual hand-shape ie 3 fours and a pair
No winds, no dragons, all from a single suit, 3 1s, 3 9s, one each of 2-8, one of these to be paired to go out — all must be taken from the wall except the last which can be from a discard.

some hands in the book with less than kosher provenance :

one of each dragon, one of each wind, a run from 1-7 in one suit
“knitting” hand, viz ALL PAIRS, but the pairs = pair of 1s, pair of 2s, pair of 3s, pair of 4s, pair of 5s, pair of 6s and pair of 7s, in one or two suits only
Run from 1-7 in same suit, pung of dragons (ie 3 of the same colour) and one of each wind

On the first page, in successive paras the author
a: quotes a disgruntled “chinese gentleman”:”We Chinese have played Mah Jonh one way for a thousand years, but you foreigners have played it a thousand ways in one year!”
b: then argues (surely correctly?) that “if all players would strictly adhere to this set of rules they would more or less become UNIVERSAL” — er yes
c: And continues (with monumental cheek, given the fact of HITLER’S BLUNDER et al): “After all, the game was invented by the Chinese and their rules should be followed as closely as possible”

mahjong kungfuB: mah jongg movies
Mahjong movies are a subgenre of Chinese gambling films that focuses on Mahjong games and over-the-top tile-playing skills. The movie can be either a comedy or an action movie (occasionally with distinctive elements of Chinese kung fu). The films, produced in Hong Kong, are often released during the Chinese New Year. Mahjong movies are very popular, particularly in some Asian countries. (this is copied from wikipedia)

* Kung Fu Mahjong 3 (2007)
* Bet To Basic (2006)
* Kung Fu Mahjong 2 (2005)
* Kung Fu Mahjong (2005)
* Teenage Gambler (2003)
* Fat Choi Spirit (2002)
* Mahjong Dragon (1996)
* Why, Why, Tell Me Why? (1986)
* Mahjong Horoki (1984)* Mahjong Heroes (1981)