From Vegas to Macau

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/04/14 00:43:46

"No longer a God of Gamblers."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's been a while since I've seen any of the original "God of Gamblers" movies, so it's quite possible that they were a great deal sillier than I remember them being. The thing was, even when they were kind of comedic, Chow Yun-fat was cool in them. In this quasi-sequel, he's something else, a guy everyone talks about being awesome even though it no longer seems the case.

Things start of with another guy called Cool (Nicolas Tse), who along with his father Benz (Hui Shiu-hung) and cousin Karl (Chapman To) steal from loan sharks Robin Hood-style to help those who have been extorted and pay Benz's wife's medical bills. It turns out that Benz is an old friend of the world-famous gambler Ken (Chow), who has been working as a security consultant in Las Vegas for the past few years, but whom Chinese detective Lok Chi-man (Jing Tian) is trying to recruit to bring down Mr. Ko (Gao Hu), an international money launderer.

There's more - good lord, there's more. Writer/director Wong Jing seems eager to keep busy, filling every available minute of the movie with comic relief plots, fast-paced back-and-forth dialogue, and absolutely any excuse for special effects he can come up with. A tour of Ken's mansion becomes something out of a movie for much younger viewers as CGI effects have things pop in and out of the floor. It's madcap, and caps things of with an ending that's in the same exaggerated spirit but naturally a last-minute addition.

It's frenetic, and doesn't really give any of the characters a chance to aspire to anything but paper-thinness, but that doesn't mean there's no fun to be had. Jokes that often seem juvenile are still kind of universal, so it's hard not to giggle at broad slapstick or visual gags like Ko turning over an 11 because he's somehow able to change the number on a card, and the sheer amount of silliness on display has to impress and occasionally hit if only by random unless one is a complete sourpuss. It can be a low count and still get the job done. It can be a tough balance with the meaner aspects, like how Ko winds up torturing one of the characters, but likely something will work for everyone.

This sort of goofy slapstick has never really been Chow Yun-fat's wheelhouse, though, and there's something sad about him hamming it up here, his character actually protesting that he's almost sixty at a couple of points when actually pushed at a much younger woman after a fair amount of leering and flirting. He doesn't have the wildest takes, but this is basically one of the roles that made him an icon of cool, and he's only got a couple of moments where he seems to be acting rather than mugging. He's easily upstaged by Nicholas Tse, who can actually make a character named "Cool" work even behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Jing Tian is a fine enough leading lady that I kind of wish they'd paired her off with Tse; with Kimmy Tong pretty but bland as Ken's daughter, maybe it would have been more fun to have her weird enough to actually go for Chapman To's goofy sidekick.

The action, at least, is pretty good; it's handled by Nicky Li and tends to feature John Zhang Jin as Ko's enforcer "Ghost Eyes". He's not messing around and has good fight scenes with both Nicholas Tse and Philip Ng Wan-Lung, a burst of serious energy in the middle of silliness. Must of the rest is CGI-augmented, including Ken's golden playing cards that cut through the air like throwing stars. The bouncy piano score is also a plus.

It's possible that my lack of enjoyment of this movie is the result of coming at it with unfair expectations, wanting to see a cool Chow Yun-fat in a light but not exactly ridiculous movie, and someone coming in looking for zaniness will enjoy it more. I doubt it somewhat, though; even for slapstick comedy, it's dumb enough to be frustrating.

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