God of Gamblers (1989) Review

"God of Gamblers" Japanese DVD Cover

"God of Gamblers" Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Producer: Jimmy Heung
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Joey Wong, Sharla Cheung Man, Charles Heung Wah Keung, Ronald Wong Pan, Jimmy Lee Fong, Shing Fui On, Yeung Chak Lam, Ng Man Tat
Running Time: 125 min.

By Numskull

This highly revered Chow Yun-Fat vehicle is credited as the inspiration for a host of gambling-themed films in much the same way as Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam! kick-started the “girls with guns” genre and Ricky Lau’s Mr. Vampire is (rightly) considered the “showcase” Chinese superstition-based comedy. I can’t say it blew me away since the gambling premise is one that I neither know nor care much about, but it’s certainly a solid, well-crafted film…and, with Wong Jing in the director’s chair, that is a minor miracle.

Chow Yun-Fat turns in an even better performance than usual as Ko Chun, an incredibly smooth, chocolate-loving gambling genius who, after suffering a head injury thanks to a trap set for a homosexual Indian man (don’t ask), becomes a slow-witted simpleton with partial memory loss, essentially playing two characters in the same film. Less impressive is Andy Lau as Knife, a hot-headed man of dubious morality who tries to use Ko Chun (now known as Chocolate) and his latent gambling skills to clear his debts and amass a fortune for himself, his long-legged girlfriend Jane (Joey Wang), and his chum Crawl (Ronald Wong), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Buscemi. Chocolate’s witlessness leads to a few difficult situations for Knife; some comical (Chocolate imitating the gasps heard in a whorehouse), some dramatic (Knife abandoning his puppet until guilt and compassion get the better of him), and some a mixture of both (oh, THERE’S Chocolate; he just went to buy some Mickey Mouse balloons. No wonder Disney bought the rights to this one).

Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Janet (Man Cheung) anxiously awaits the return of her beloved Ko Chun while his former friend Yee (Fong Lung) sets his sights on her. Also, a fateful game with an aging crime lord named Chan draws ever closer, and Ko Chun’s assigned bodyguard, Mr. Dragon, wonders where the hell his protectee has vanished to. One of the film’s storytelling flaws is that these elements get placed on the back burner for too long while the spotlight falls on Knife and his moneymaking schemes. There’s also an out-of-place shootout where Chow Yun-Fat suddenly becomes one of his John Woo characters and, despite all the hubbub, no cops show up. However, when our hero staggers out of the building and falls to the pavement a minute later, lo and behold, there’s a fine, upstanding officer of the law right there quick as a wink to disperse the crowd that gathers around him.

Minor stuff, this. It’s a good movie. Just not anything I’d sell a kidney for.

The version I watched was a horrendous full-frame DVD from Mei Ah where the imbedded subtitles frequently got chopped off at the bottom of the screen. It brought back not-so-fond memories of those pre-DVD days when Tai Seng turned countless people off of Hong Kong cinema by doing this shit with their video tapes and charging outrageous prices for them. Even worse, Mei Ah apparently cut out about 20 minutes or so for no apparent reason; a few of my comments, therefore, are admittedly suspect. (Now, let’s see how much more fucked up the Buena Vista version is, assuming they ever release it.)

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10

By Vic Nguyen

Commercial filmmaker Wong Jing directed this box office smash in which literally launched a franchise, with numerous sequels and ripoffs soon to follow. Chow Yun-fat, giving a terrific performance, stars as Do Sun, aka, the God of Gamblers. Following an accident which leaves him with the mentality of a child, he is taken under the wing of a poor wannabe con-artist, played by pop singer Andy Lau. Plenty of hilarious comedy, highlighted by some inventive gambling and stunt-riddled shootouts makes God of Gamblers one of Wong Jing’s best films to date.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 8.5/10

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