Lately the hits for the Stephen Chow Journey to the West article have been adding up as it is gaining mild readership like a freight train and poised to become top 3 in the near future.
Hey I only have a few readers so I might as well give 'em what they want, if they want Chinese movie reviews then I'm gonna bang out some Chinese movie reviews. No biggie.
You ready for it ya big readers you? I'm 'bout to knock out a whole slew of Chinese movie review.
Chinese Gamblin' Movies
What is a "Chinese Gamblin' Movie" well it's basically a full length film set in China where people gamble. Simple enough.
The first of its kind was a Shaw Brothers classic from 1976 known as "King of Gamblers" (trailer below).
Most fans of Shaw Brothers movies know that a lot of the flavor of these films was in their campiness, silliness, and cheapness. This film does not disapoint as its camp/silly/cheap levels are pretty darned high yet this film is just the departure point for the genre and will not be a main focus of this article.
Fast forward to 1989 and the Hong Kong movie scene had grown considerably both talent and funding wise and in this year would mark the true birth of the Chinese Gamblin' Movie. I don't know what you call the "Hollywood" of Hong Kong, maybe "Hongywood", anyway Hongywood thought the 1976 King of Gamblers film was totally bad ass and wanted to make their own totally bad ass Gamblin' movie and they did. They cast Yun-Fat Chow as the lead and a legendary film genre was born.
The first time I ever saw Yun-Fat Chow was when I stayed up super late one night in the mid-nineties and this channel (Showcase/Channel40 in Canada) was showing a marathon of John Woo movies. A lot of people know Johnny Woo because he crossed the ocean and became a big director in Hollywood too (directing Face Off with Cage/Travolta amongst others). Yun-Fat used to be Woo's go to guy for shoot-'em-up action movies and Showcase was playing Hard Boiled, The Killer, and Once a Thief which were all superb Yun-Fat films. In a John Woo directed Yun-Fat Chow movie it was not uncommon for thousands of people to be shot in the face...which is cool.
That's the basics of the genre, now on to the review...
1. God of Gamblers (1989)
(Note: the "Mix" slot is where I try to pigeon hole the film into a mix of movies to give you an idea what you're in for. Think of it like if a movie was like baking a cake how you'd derive the cake via its ingredients so to speak.)
Mix: 2 Parts Hard Boiled (shoot 'em up action) + 2 Parts James Bond + 1 Part The Bell Boy (generic slapstick throw-a-way comedy) + 1 Part Rain Man.
Synopsis: The greatest gambler in the world is commissioned by a wealthy gambler to defeat his nemesis in a gamblin' duel yet things take a turn for the worse when the greatest gambler in the world accidentally tumbles down a hill and gets amnesia. Thankfully some local street hooligans nurse him back to health and make use of his god-like gamblin' powers.
Starring: Yun-Fat Chow as the God of Gamblin', Andy Lau as the street smart Knifey Boy, Charles Heung as Dragon Bodyguard, Man-Tat Ng as the sub-boss villain, and Hom-Lom Pau as the final boss.
Opinion: I know Rain Man in the mix above seems out of place but the creators have stated that Rain Man was a key factor in making this film. Amnesia in China seems to have a different definition than it does here. In China when you get amnesia you don't just forget shit...you revert to being a 4 year old child. For the majority of this film Yun-Fat is playing a mentally handicapped man a la Dustin Hoffman character from Rain Man.
The action in this movie is where it's truly at though. Yun-Fat is not the designated bad-guy killing machine in this film because that role falls on the shoulders of the immensely wickedly bad-assed Charles Heung who plays Dragon Bodyguard. Oh my word does Dragon Bodyguard kill a lot of bad guys in this movie. Any scene where Dragon Bodyguard shows up in you know bad guys are gonna get dead and they are gonna get dead FAST.
This is the movie that got the ball rolling for the genre and is very likely the best Chinese Gamblin' movie ever.
2. All for the Winner (1990)
Mix: 2 Parts God of Gamblers + 1 Part James Bond + 2 Parts The Bell Boy (generic slapstick)
Synopsis: The self proclaimed "Reverend Saint of Gamblers" travels from Gaungzhou to Hong Kong to make it big in the city. He and his bumbling uncle make use of his sacred Taoist voodoo gamblin' powers to engage in high stakes gamblin' adventures.
Starring: Stephen Chow as Saint of Gamblers, Man-Tat Ng as bumbling Uncle Tat, Sharla Cheung as a hot chick, and Paul Cheung as the bad guy.
Opinion: A year after God of Gamblers made waves on the big-screen the comedic oriented Stephen Chow and his crew either really liked it or were super jealous of it...so they parodied it with an ultra-comedic version of it. Man-Tat Ng is in this too but not reprising his role as the sub-boss from God of Gamblers.
This movie is rife with mystical Taoist voodoo shit...it actually gets a bit annoying. Stephen Chow is so good at gambling that he can basically start glowing like a Dragon Ball Z character and change cards into whatever he wants them to be. Silly magic abounds in this movie...it can barely go a minute without some voodoo shit happening. Not that it's bad or anything, but the voodoo stuff was used sparingly in the God of Gamblers and not blatantly every minute where it just gets annoying.
The gamblin' duel at the end with the evil gambler boss is still cool though and all in all it's a decent film.
3. God of Gamblers II (1991)
Mix: 2 Parts God of Gamblers + 1 Part James Bond + 2 Parts The Bell Boy (generic slapstick) + 1 Part Hard Boiled.
Synopsis: Knifey Boy now regarded as the "Knight of Gamblers" and the "Saint of Gamblers" reluctantly team up to battle an imposter who's going around town calling himself the "Knight of Gamblers" and ruining the good name of the real Knight. Can the real Knight and the Saint put an end to this evil imposter's reign of dubious behavior? I certainly hope so.
Starring: Andy Lau as the Knight, Stephen Chow as the Saint, Man-Tat Ng as bumblin' uncle, Dragon Bodyguard as the Mother Fuckin' Dragon Bodyguard, and Lap-Man Tan as Hussein the Imposter.
Opinion: This was a weird direction to take the series. Basically a year after the parody and two years following the original...they merged the original and the parody together to make a sequel for BOTH OF THEM.
It's the equivalent in Hollywood if Star Wars made another movie following Space Balls where both movies merged together. Think of Harrison Ford and John Candy fooling around in space doing fart jokes and battling the Empire while Mel Brooks and George Lucas high five each other behind the scenes. That's what basically happened with the God of Gamblers films.
Yun-Fat Chow didn't seem to want anything to do with this as he is only seen in archive footage and his God of Gamblers character is only referenced to in this movie. Dragon Bodyguard shows up though and guess what he's doing? Yup, he's equipped with a Magnum desert eagle and is literally blowing away every bad guy who even thinks of fucking with either the Knight of Gambling or the Saint of Gambling. Plus he has a sister in this movie the She-Dragon Bodyguard who is whooping ass and shooting dudes too.
This film marks the first time in the Chinese Gamblin' genre that a dude whips a standard playing card so hard and skillfully at another dude that the card cuts through the skin and lodges itself into the dude's body. Andy Lau preforms this maneuver and it should be noted that it was very very cool.
4. God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai
Mix: 1 Part God of Gamblers + 1 Part Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 (the one where they go back in time to the Orient for no reason) + 1 Part The Gods Must be Crazy 3 + 1 Part Hard Boiled + 1 Part Rain Man
Opinion: Yun-Fat is still missing in action and is only seen in a photograph. Andy Lau? He doesn't show up to this movie either meaning the brunt of the gamblin' heroism falls on the shoulders of the lovable Stephen Chow. At least Uncle Tat is back in this one and so is Dragon Bodyguard too...and as you'd expect DB kills about a hundred thousand people this time around (including a whole 1930s Japanese army battalion).
You thought there was too much whacky Taoist-Voodoo in the last installment? Well hold the phone because this next one goes full fucking Taoist. I included the awful film The Gods Must Be Crazy 3 in the Mix because that is the only movie I can think of with as much taoist voodoo nonsense in it.
In the 3rd installment of the The Gods Must be Crazy a Chinese Taioist priest travels to Africa to fight vampires...yeah, it makes loads and loads of sense, yeah. The God of Gamblers III makes even less sense than the third movie of the Gods Must be Crazy series with all the Taoist voo doo silliness.
Literally in the first 5 minutes of God of Gamblers III, Stephen Chow and his nemesis "Glass Eye" Kao Tun do so much fucking god damned voodoo that a great wind splits the world open and a vortex forms sucking them into the past. Yes, our hero is transported back in time to 1937 gangster-ridden Shanghai...why not? I'll go with it, I guess. Man-Tat Ng is now playing the role of Chow's homosexual grandfather from the past instead of his bumbling uncle (actually he plays both) which is cool, I guess.
If that wasn't enough, they managed to sneak in a mentally handicapped individual into this one to maintain the 1 part Rain Man in the mix of ingredients. Was it necessary to have a Rain Man character? No, it wasn't....but at this point who even cares anymore? This movie is beyond ridiculous.
All the way through this entire film I kind of hated it, I kept thinking at every point "this movie makes no fucking sense, man" but by the end when everything was said and done...I thought it was a pretty cool Chinese Gamblin' Movie after all. It's hard to dislike a Chinese Gamblin' movie when push comes to shove.
5. God of Gamblers 2: Return of the God of Gamblers (1994)
Mix: 3 Parts Hard Boiled (action!) + 2 Parts Death Wish One (revenge!!) + 1 Part James Bond + 1 Part The Bell Boy (slapstick!) + 1 Part Cop and A Half (adult/child buddy comedy!)
Synopsis: The God of Gamblers has fucked with too many bad guys over the years and for his safety has left the life of gamblin' behind to live in France with his wife and attempt to make a baby and raise a cute family. The simple life is harder to achieve as he once thought as bad guys manage to find him and thwart his plans of living a quiet-ass life. Can the God of Gamblers cope?
Starring: Yun-Fat Chow as the God of fuckin' Gamblers, Dragon Bodyguard as the Dragon fuckin' Bodyguard, Tony Leung as "Trumpet," Chien-Lien Wu as a hot-enough Asian chick, Chingmy Yau as a super-hot Asian chick, and the Bad Guy as the Bad Guy.
Opinion: God of Gamblaz ROLL CALL!!!!
Stephen Chow: (Not here).
Andy Lau: (Not here).
Dragon Bodyguard: HERE!
Bumblin' Uncle Tat: (Not here).
...Yun-Fat Chow? HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh boy, the cock has come back to the roost. Call your grandma and let her know...The God of Gamblers is back in a God of Gamblers movie! Yun-Fat Chow is in the house, he's takin' names, he's kicking asses, and not even giving ten fucks.
This movie is fucked, man. With Stephen Chow's parody/comedy shtick thrown to the wayside this movie gets awfully dark really fast. The way they set-up how evil the bad guy is...is a little too fucked up.
Listen, the initial scenes to set-up the eviltude of the bad guy is real dark. The first scenes of Bad Guy is him throwing a friggin' cute cat out of a moving car! Then the bad guy literally rips a lady's stomach open to give her an ad-hoc unwanted abortion...and then he puts the fetus in a mason jar (WTF!?!?!?!). Okay bro...we get it...you're evil....you're a bad guy...we get it already...can we see some light hearted gamblin' now please?
The stakes are really high in this movie with people gamblin' with their hands, limbs, eyeballs, and lives and all this. Holy crap.
Yes, "Death Wish" themes as well as "Cop and a Half" themes are present in this picture. Revenge is one of the main themes throughout the film (by the end of the movie I think a dozen dead folks need to be avenged) and Yun-Fat teams up with a cute kid side-kick for the majority of the film a la Cop and a Half. It's an odd mix but it works, it's a good movie, no doubt.
This movie also features the hottest Asian chick I've seen in a Chinese Gamblin' Movie up to now. The chick with the tattoo on her boob and who kicks people's faces at the roulette table is pretty hot, I do say.
One thing that made me laugh in this one is they counter-parody the Stephen Chow gamblin' movies a bit. At one point while God of Gamblers is gambling one of his allies says something along the lines of "I thought he'd look more cooler while gambling like the great Super Saiyan from Dragon Ball...." which was obviously poking fun at the blatant kai-o-ken style powers Stephen Chow displayed in All for the Winner.
6. From Vegas to Macau (2014)
Mix: 2 Parts James Bond + 2 Part Hard Boiled + 2 Parts The Bell Boy + 1 Tablespoon of Rain Man
Starring: Yun-Fat Chow as God Hand Ken....and a bunch of other people too.
Opinion: Twenty years later Yun-Fat Chow is gamblin' again but this time he's not reprising his role as God of Gamblers but is playing the role of Ken the man with the God Hand. Ken has different moves and techniques than the God of Gamblers including the ability to whip gold-plated playing-card shurikens that can ricochet off walls and other edges and land in everybody's fucking throats, legs, balls, asses, and faces.
They kind of have the Rain Man character in this movie, sorta. Yun-Fat's daughter is a weird chick who does acrobatic flips and tumbles around the God Hand mansion with this bungee chord thing all day and is described as being super weird and a bit retarded.
I wonder if Dragon Bodyguard is still alive in 2014...either way he's not in this new movie and that means countless on-screen lives were spared in the making of this film (unfortunately). I bet a lot of extras were happy that Dragon Bodyguard didn't show up to this movie because they could thus avoid having to sit in the make-up chair for an hour to get the standard "gory death" treatment and avoid having to rig exploding blood packs to themselves.
If you count up all the bad guys killed by Dragon Bodyguard through all the Gamblin' movies I bet his death toll is statistically in the Rambo region. It says on his IMDB that Dragon Bodyguard is still alive but I guess no one bothered inviting him to this movie. That's kinda crappy...still it's not a game breaker or anything because this film rules despite the absence of Dragon Bodyguard.
Final Statements on the Matter
I refer to movies in the mix section just to give the reader an idea of what the movie in question consists of. I'm not recommending these or necessarily believe the movies in the "mix" sections are good. For instance, I used The Bell Boy to describe elements of forced slapstick style in-your-face brand humor. Jerry Lewis is the King of Forced Comedy in the fashion of...
"Hey laaaaadies! Look over here! I'm trying to be funny over here! Look at meeee! I'm attempting to do comedic actions in this vacinity! Can you see me trying to be funny! I'm being funny over here! Look at this funny face I'm making! Are you looooking!? I'm making a funny face over here! Hey laaaaaaady!"
Forced slapstick is like that, you know? The actor/actress is making it perfectly clear that he or she is attempting to do something funny just in case the audience was too dumb to figure it out themselves.
It does give your movie a light hearted silliness to it but the manner of delivery and how forced it is leaves the audience rolling their eyes at times (more often than not). Jerry Lewis is the poster boy for this forced comedy style and that's the reason I used one of his movies as an example to illustrate the slapshtick forced-comedy style in the mix section.
The ratings speak for themselves...the God of Gamblers which have heavy doses of Yun-Fat Chow are the best ones, no doubt about it.
I wouldn't be surprised if a huge rivalry exists between Stephen Chow and Yun-Fat Chow over there in China...I would suspect these two really don't like each other. I bet they both think they are the King of Hongywood but the joke's on both of them in the end because Jackie Chan is still and probably always will be the King of Hongywood. Jackie Chan is probably the most famous actor on earth to be fair.
In closing, I want to make a super wicked Gamblin' film because it looks like a lot of fun to do that.
I wish this was MY theme song!!!!!!!