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Heroes of the East

Film discussion and banter

    God of Gamblers (1989: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)


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    Join date : 2011-02-16
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    God of Gamblers (1989: Wong Jing: Hong Kong) Empty God of Gamblers (1989: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch Mon May 01, 2017 11:55 am

    “Everybody knows you never go full retard.” – Kirk Lazarus

    “Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, 'Rain Man,' look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho'. Not retarded.” – Kirk Lazarus

    “To beat you puffier.” – The greatest line in the film.

    The most successful director from the Shaw Brothers after the Shaw Brothers era was Wong Jing. Where others like Chor Yuen and Chang Cheh creatively and commercially were at their apex and are still mostly known for their Shaw Brothers work, Wong Jing would become much more popular after the studio even though he had hits there such as Prince Charming (1984). He started off with TVB and then wrote and directed for the famous studio with films like Winner Takes All where his pastiche ridden, gambling obsession and commercialist style was already evident. Wong has stated that the Norman Jewison gambling film The Cincinnati Kid (1965) was one of his favorites and that is obvious is so many of his movies. Though Wong’s Casino Raiders earlier in 1989 can be stated to be the first film in the new gambling film craze, it was his next film God of Gamblers* which would become a massive hit and lead to parodies, sequels, official sequels to the parody and rip-offs (who is ripping off who gets a little confusing pretty quickly).

    This was an immensely popular film with the Hong Kong public. It was the second highest grossing HK film in the 1980s, which at-the-time would make it the second-highest grossing film of HK all-time second only to The Eighth Happiness, but one that also stars Chow Yun-fat showing how popular he was at the time.** Critics and writers such as Paul Fonoroff or John Charles (with exceptions like David Bordwell) were not as kind to this as the public, but that certainly has not hurt its influence. While I feel the film is a mixed-bag of plot contrivances, rushed filmmaking, an overuse of “homages” and ultimately could have been a lot better, I have seen it several times and I still enjoy it.

    We are introduced to globetrotter and unstoppable gambler with panache and a chocolate addiction Ko Chun (Chow Yun-fat) who dominates first in San Francisco and then in Tokyo Japan. There he beats Mr. Wang in two games of mahjong and dice (Chun said if he lost once he would lose it all) where the dice scene was modeled after similar betting scenes in the Shintarô Katsu Zatoichi films with yakuza tattooed Miss Chi (Nishiwaki Michiko) and even an ear twitch for another obvious reference. Wang tells of a Singaporean gangster Chan Kam Shing who only bets in international waters who was responsible for his dad killing himself though Chan cheated. This will, of course, will set-up the finale of the film. While that is obvious, how it comes to that finale is not except for all of you who have seen the movie or read about it. For those who had not seen the trailer before watching this it must have been like seeing From Dusk Till Dawn without knowing there was going to be vampires (damn you trailer.)

    Meanwhile, Knife (Andy Lau) is a mediocre (Morsov!) gambler who carries with him a picture of the God of Gamblers and hangs around with Crawl (perennial friend Ronald Wong Ban) and his sometimes suffering but loyal girlfriend with good fashion sense Jane (Joey Wong). His first scenes end up with him being tossed out of a second story window in what is a throw away stunt, but ends up looking pretty impressive to me (while Andy Lau did not do this stunt, he does several stunts in the film). He’s just not a good gambler. Will his luck change?

    His luck changes when he accidently injures the wrong man when he sets up a practical joke (a really stupid one) to injure an annoying neighbor. This just happens to be the God of Gamblers, however, no one knows it yet because of a severe bump which renders Ko Chun with amnesia and the mental age of a young kid. Yet he retains his gambling abilities and chocolate addiction. The end up calling him Chocolate (which reminds me of the 2008 Thai film which I am sure got its name from this.) He becomes his Raymond Babbitt to his Charlie Babbitt as the film takes a Rain Man angle. But first he has to find his hidden talents and once he does we know what he will want to do with them. But how will this lead to an eventual showdown with Chan Kam Shing?

    Wong Jing’s films are often pastiche. This is no exception with references from Raiders of the Lost Ark borrowing the gun versus knife scene, multiple John Woo film references (which also means the Alain Delon hair), The Untouchables (which was an homage to Battleship Potemkin) with the famous baby carriage, a butterfly knife scene that Terence Hill did with a gun (including slapping) earlier in My Name is Nobody (and Trinity), and other ones I have mentioned earlier. Wait was there a Weekend at Bernies reference (grab head and shake yes)? Wong is a little like Roger Corman mixed with Quentin Tarantino. He fits perfectly in studio system, usually makes money, is not ashamed to reuse scenes from other films over and over again and is constantly working to the chagrin of his critics.

    There are certainly a few negatives in this film. The biggest are the use of the scenes with the Indian which were xenophobic and came off more mean than anything else. Also, the music gets a little on my nerves with the oft-repeated muzak version of Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and a so-so soundtrack. I am not sure how well the supernatural element in one scene to his ability works in this movie as you later think: “Of course he can always win, he can change a card (or maybe even a tile).” That aspect takes a little out of the thrill of chance in a gambling film though it evens things up if someone else is cheating. Much of the plot is pretty sporadic and scattershot without much cohesion and characters and plot angles coming and going. One might be hoping that an amnesia victim from a head hit will not result in a later scene with another head hit, but unfortunately that is there as well. But none of these problems are out of the ordinary for a Wong Jing movie.

    But ultimately I enjoyed this. Chow Yun-fat’s performance certainly helps and it would be a lesser film without him. He was nominated for Hong Kong Film Award Best Actor but lost to himself for his performance in All About Ah-long. He was not upset by this. But I enjoyed the supporting characters as well with Andy Lau giving a performance you would expect modeling somewhat after Tom Cruise. There are lots of film references or homages. Plus the finale and the gambling scenes are done quite well though it is directly inspired by The Cincinnati Kid (I just rewatched this and some of the fast paced editing, juxtaposition of images, zooming on individuals and cards is exactly the same.)

    The Mei Ah R0 NTSC I watched is an OK copy. There are original Mandarin and Cantonese audios and two additional Cantonese with Dolby Digital Surround and DTS Surround. There are Simplified and Traditional Chinese subtitle as well as English. The English subtitles use British slang such as punter and does have its share of spelling mistakes and does not always follow the English correctly when it is spoken. Extras are a trailer, an interview of the director Wong Jing (6.15m w/ removable subs including English and Chinese Traditional and Simplified) which I recommend and data bank (you can usually skip these texts) with cast and crew and synopsis in English and Chinese.

    * The title came from producer Jimmy Heung from a book he read. The title character was a ghost. Wong Jing in an interview stated he thought the book was poorly written.

    ** Given inflation, one could make a bet that A Better Tomorrow sold more tickets in 1986. But when you look at top grossing titles of the 1980s it is dominated by Chow Yun-fat and Jackie Chan. It seems surprisingly to me years later that The Eighth Happiness was so popular when it came out. It is a decent comedy, but not one that I either associate much with the director Johnnie To, whose later films are among my favorites, nor one of the great HK comedies of the 1980s.

    Keywords: butterfly knife, Fanling, flashback, hachimaki headband, handheld, Indian, Lantau Island, necrophilia, Platoon Leader (large movie billboard in background), reverse-filming, Rolls Royce, scaffolding, Scorpion Tattoo (Vietnamese Chinese), Tonnochy Night Club, Tonnochy Road, Tsm Shatsui Centre.

    Notes/Questions/Random Comments:
    Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head recorded by B.J. Thomas
    How long have ripped jeans been fashionable? Joey Wong wears them throughout.
    What’s with the guys’ polo shirts with suit?
    Why would the computer screen in San Francisco have Chinese writing on the software?
    There is a nice continuity mistake when Knife asks Brother Ching for money. Check out his belt and necklace before, during and after scene.
    Any idea what the martial art book in the film is?
    Any idea on what book this movie was based on? I cannot find it for sale.

    Planet Hong Kong 2nd Edition (2011) by David Bordwell especially section “Whatever You Want Wong Jing” pgs. 109-113
    Hong Kong Babylon (1997) by Fredric Dannen and Barry Long: notes that Wong Jing has a degree in Chinese literature; “Wong admires Hollywood films – his favorites are The Cincinnati Kid, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Die Hard”;
    At the Hong Kong Movies (1999) by Paul Fonoroff: hates the film except for Chow Yun-fat.
    (wiki link) Tonnochy Road
    Illuminated Lantern review (March 31, 2004): This site has some interesting reviews on Hong Kong movies. A comment on this states that there is no racist remark on the Indian and that he was the aggressor, which is true to the extent that the remark came off as xenophobic not racist. Of course one can state that the director had the Indian come off as a complete jerk, so that the later attempts to hurt him seemed justified (they were not.) I would also make the point that Casino Raiders actually jumpstarted the gambling genre again, not this film.

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