WHAT! THE HEIST (发财联盟) (2023)

Genre: Comedy
Director: Matt Lai
Cast: Mark Lee, Jack Lim, Patricia Mok, Henry Thia, Jaspers Lai, Grace Teo, Gan Mei Yan, Hao Ren, Yuan Teng 
Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Drug References)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 19 January 2023

Synopsis: The story begins when Godfather, a criminal genius, breaks out of prison and entrust a powerful gangster lord (Big Boss) with a mission called the "Lottery Heist". Chao Yan Fatt is a veteran actor. He has a daughter who suffers from heart disease and needs a huge sum of money for heart bypass surgery and treatment. Chao and his friend Bao accidentally find themselves involved in the Lottery Heist mission and they become members of the heist team. The objective of the mission is to change the lottery machine and modify the lotto balls, to rig the final result and win the grand prize of 100 million. The mission starts when the heist team sneaks into the lottery company, steals the lottery machine’s secret information and makes an artificial machine to replace the original one. The entire operation process is not only adventurous but also hilarious. Meanwhile, police officer Ted quietly leads the police force to stop the operation while Big Boss hatches a plot to kill all the heist members after the mission. A battle of wits, who will finally win the grand lottery prize?

Movie Review:

Good intentions do not always a good film make. If you need further proof of that adage, look no further than ‘What! the Heist’. Indeed, it is laudable that the filmmakers wanted to break the mould of the usual Chinese New Year movie (or ‘贺岁片’), but this clumsy caper has barely any entertainment value, and is hardly befitting of the genre references of ‘Going in Style’, ‘Now You See Me 2’ and ‘Ocean’s Eight’ which it says that it aspires to.

Right from the beginning, you’d recognise just how witty the storytelling will be. Following a prologue which informs us how career thief Goh Fatt Choi (Jack Lim) was sentenced to three years in jail for a financial scam worth USD$40 million, we see how Choy Gor breaks out of his prison cell by trying to use his middle finger to reach the keypad outside the door, before finally accomplishing it with his toes on a handstand. What about his getaway? Well, that’s taken care of after the two guards outside the prison are knocked unconscious by his sexy accomplice Bangkok (Ahirine Ahirudin).

It hardly gets any funnier or smarter than that – neither in how Choy Gor devises a plan to steal the blueprint of Lotto 168’s lottery machine that is in the company’s secret darkroom, or how they eventually manage to pull off their scam despite not being able to switch out the company’s machine with their own rigged dummy replica. Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say Choy Gor’s plan includes recruiting his former buddy Chao Yan Fatt (Mark Lee) for the mission, an almost Golden Horse Award-winning actor who has fallen far from his glory days.

Is it any surprise that part of their supposedly ingenuous plan is a honey trap? What makes it worse is how poorly executed it is, with Yan Fatt’s neighbour Ah Hua (Patricia Mok) deploying her former Miss Katong Shopping Centre 1985 charms to seduce Lotto 168’s head of security in order to pilfer his key card to access the CEO’s office where the darkroom is. Just as uninspired is how Fatt uses drinks laced with laxative to get rid of the pair of guards at the incinerator where the company’s lotto balls are disposed of, in order to hand over a rigged set of lotto balls to the head of security for use during the fateful lottery draw.

How the company’s head of security just happens to be Ah Hua’s suitor isn’t the only lazy coincidence; there is also how Fatt’s daughter Fan Fan’s condition, who has a hole in her heart and is in need of surgery, suddenly takes a turn for the worse at a crucial juncture of their plan, leading Choy Gor and his fellow mastermind Big Boss (Henry Thia) to suspect that Fatt had intentionally betrayed them. Speaking of coincidences, we'd add that there is an uncanny deus-ex-machina here that seems lifted off the original ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, reinforcing just how unimaginative the whole enterprise is.

It says a lot when the most humourous bits are the three segments that intentionally parody scenes from three classic Hong Kong movies, including ‘Infernal Affairs’, ‘In The Mood for Love’ and ‘Ip Man’. To his credit, Mark Lee makes the best of each of these parodies, but it is lamentable when the movie’s best bits are when it makes fun of such classics. Equally, it says a lot when the absolutely versatile Lee is unable to inject much life into the lifeless script, whether his thinly written character or the bland lines of dialogue that are meant to be funny but fall flat.

Whilst those in Malaysia would be more familiar with Lim, the actor hardly does himself any favours among viewers who do not quite know him by his bland performance here. The same can be said of the annoying Bao Ya Gu (Jaspers Lai), the unnecessary stuttering hacker Darren (Haoren), or the barely present Hong Jie (Mei Yan). There is also an absolutely dumb subplot involving the police’s pursuit of Choy Gor, led by the exasperatingly incompetent Ted (Yuan Teng), who gets a silly recurring joke about his tendency to accidentally stab his colleague’s hand with a pencil while gesticulating about Choy.

As good-intentioned as director Matt Lai and his co-scriptwriter Jaspers Lai were in making a uncharacteristic Chinese New Year film, ‘What! The Heist’ is quite the absolute misfire that cannot be redeemed by any goodwill. Sorry to everyone involved, the only reaction/ response we had to the film after sitting through 104 minutes of utter inanity was ‘What the F**k!’

Movie Rating:

(No amount of goodwill can save this good-intentioned but absolute misfire of a caper comedy that has hardly any entertainment value, for Chinese New Year or otherwise)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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