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From Vegas to Macau III
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by Jay Seaver

"A sucker bet."
1 stars

When I saw the first "From Vegas to Macau" at a festival a couple years ago, I figured that I was just a victim of bad expectations, not prepared for something so silly, especially thinking of Chow Yun-fat as an icon of cool. This time, I knew what I was getting into, so maybe it would go over better. No such luck; as much as the zaniness occasionally appeals, it's sloppy and too self-satisfied to work for long stretches.

It opens with the wedding of legendary gambler Ken Shek's protege Vincent (Shawn Yue Man-lok) to his Ken's daughter Rainbow (Kimmy Tong Fei)... Well, not quite; we initially see gambler and arms dealer JC (Jacky Cheung Hok-yau) in his mad scientist lair in Thailand, looking at a woman suspended in a bubble and vowing revenge on Ken Shek, which means he's the guy behind the android with a bomb inside it that goes off at the ceremony. This (and the hypnosis, and a tasering) has Ken off his game, although his partner Mark (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) friend Michael (Andy Lau Tak-wah) is there to help him out.

Andy Lau apparently popped up as Michael in From Vegas to Macau 2 (which, like the first, has not had an official North American release in theaters or on video despite the third being released on both sides of the Pacific simultaneously), reprising his part from Knight of Gamblers, also known as "God of Gamblers II", with the actual God of Gamblers II released in the US as "God of Gamblers Return", and if that sounds confusing, I haven't yet mentioned that Ken is not Chow Yun-fat's character from those films, but that he also reprises his role as Ko Chun, and the two looking alike was apparently explained in the second, which also seems to be where this series went from busting money launderers with slapstick to Ken having "Robot Stupid" as a butler, brains in jars, and explosive androids.

And both of these changes initially seem like great ideas. The movie kicks off with a high-energy theme song previewing the upcoming action, and JC looks like the perfect villain for this sort of thing - larger-than-life but still genuinely threatening. Perhaps more importantly, Andy Lau more or less taking over the lead from Chow Yun-fat seems like a much better fit for the material. Lau seems self-deprecating even when being boastful and clever when being foolish, while Chow has seldom been much of a comedian, and the fact that he's mugging like crazy as Ken is really only funny for as long as it takes to note he's playing against type.

Unfortunately, filmmaker Wong Jing (who co-directs with cinematographer Andrew Lau Wai-keung) seems to have no idea of how long a joke should last. Ken being addled from all the stuff that happens to him in the first act is a good gag, but it just keeps going on and on, getting bigger but not funnier, and when you consider that he's pretty much all that's left from the first movie, a gag that basically sidelines him leaves the movie at sea. Many wheels are spun in the center of the movie as Wong seems to have no idea how to naturally get from the start to the finish, and there are points where characters basically stand aside and watch gags with the audience, giggling like it's a lot funnier than it is. And, wow, does Wong pick the absolute wrong note to end on.

The shame of it is that there's a pretty good cast here that starts to shine when allowed to do their individual things. Andy Lau has already been highlighted as pretty great, but Nick Cheung impresses as well, whether doing broad physical comedy opposite Chow Yun-fat or deadpan breaking of the fourth wall. Li Yuchun gets the "tough girl with short haircut mistaken for a guy" part that's apparently considered a lot funnier in Hong Kong than America, but she runs with it, playing well off everyone she's paired with. That includes Jacky Heung Cho, who does a lot of the heavy lifting in the action scenes. On the other hand, with so many people passing in and out, some wind up severely underused, with the most egregious being Carina Lau Ka-ling, who gets just about nothing to do in her character's comatose state.

This is the 99th film Wong Jing has directed in a mere 35 years, so it's not exactly surprising that it's scattershot rather than meticulously perfected, although it being this much of a mess is still surprising. He's done impressive-enough stuff and has some great collaborators here; there's no reason for it to feel like such hackwork. That this series has cranked out three installments in as many years almost seems like he's trying to milk what he can from it before the fun of seeing Chow return to one of the things that made him a superstar gives way to just how dumb these movies are.

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originally posted: 02/08/16 16:44:21
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Directed by
  Jing Wong
  Andrew Lau

Written by
  Jing Wong

  Yun-Fat Chow
  Andy Lau
  Nick Cheung
  Jacky Cheung
  Yuchun Li
  Carina Lau

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