God of Gamblers Is A Campy Classic
Hong Kong action cinema touches everything. Of course, the most common trope in its action films is police and everyday life in the city and all that, but its proximity to Macau, a big gambling destination, also leaves it open for action movies about casinos. This is what God of Gamblers, from the year 1989, capitalized on. (Yes, the title is that straightforward; it’s about a god amongst gamblers, and nothing else.)
It was pretty much their version of the James Bond films, if all James Bond films were pretty much Casino Royale and nothing else. (That’s all I got from the trailer, pretty much.)
By the way, I just have to set aside the fact that the title “God of Gamblers” is so delightfully funny, in an Asian way. You all know about Japanese “Engrish,” but there’s something more to be said about how the Chinese title their movies. It’s so amusingly blunt, that they would really have to title the movie after what the main character can do. He is a god. Of gamblers. Do the gamblers pray to him? No, they do not. He’s just amazing at what he does, and a lot of the film is spent watching the other gamblers try to take him down because he’s just that good. Anyway, moving on.
Chow Yun-Fat plays Ko Chun, the eponymous God of Gamblers in God of Gamblers. He leads an all-star cast of Hong Kong stars that fans of the genre may recognize; you might also know Andy Lau, who plays Ko Chun’s sidekick Knife in the movie, but if not, I won’t hold it against you. The reason why I call him the Hong Kong James Bond (in Casino Royale) is because his character is really a god of gamblers; he’s so good that the movie literally has to dumb him down in order to make his story compelling for film. (And to make it fair for the other gamblers.) Because it’s a Hong Kong Chinese movie, there’s also a lot of silly, unusual stuff going on, but in the end it all ties together neatly and presents Ko Chun as the savant he truly is. The so-called god amongst gamblers.
Like Casino Royale, God of Gamblers heavily features poker in the film. The Chinese’s fascination with gangland films (you know, the genre that modern movies like Kung Fu Hustle try to parody) is interesting to note, especially with their continued attempt to set the action within the casino and gambling environment of Hong Kong and Macau, which is well known around the world as a top destination for gamblers. If you’re not familiar or even aware of this particular genre of film at all, God of Gamblers is a good place to start, as it’s admittedly one of the best films in its category.
Chow Yun-Fat is a Hong Kong cinema legend for a reason, and the success of God of Gamblers helped put him on the map. The film has a lot of unusual elements, such as the eponymous gambling god having an extraordinary set of skills which he uses to become the aforementioned deity of gamblers. (It is 1989, after all, and the movie is called God of Gamblers.) Despite the common tropes that the genre employs, Chow Yun-Fat is able to ground his performance and turn in something that’s campy but not too over the top. There’s a part in the film where he has to completely act like a simpleton, and Chow is professional enough to commit to and maintain the performance, which is pretty honorable. The rest of the cast also do well in playing their parts in the film, and while some of them can only do so much with what they’re given, others also try their hardest to go above and beyond what the script requires.
If you’re somehow in the mood for an old Hong Kong action movie from previous decades, then you really can’t go wrong from this gem from 1989. God of Gamblers may age well or not so well depending on who you ask, but it’s worth a shot. You don’t have to be a gambler to enjoy it, as that’s not how movies work. You’ll just have to keep an open mind and accept this film for being as quirky as it is, and then maybe move on to a Jackie Chan movie to see what else the genre has to offer.
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