If someone watched Rain Man and remembered nothing but the gambling section of the movie and decided to base a movie around that, it would still not be like this movie, but I had nothing else to really say for this introduction.
As of last week, I could not find a version of this movie online that had English subtitles. That was because my internet connection hates me. There actually is a place that has English subtitles. I won’t tell you where it is, but maybe it works on your internet connection better than it does with mine. And don’t bother with Youtube if you live in the States. Miramax has blocked out the majority of the movie, but seems to have left alone a bunch of the sequels, spin-offs, rivals, rip-offs, parodies, and various movies with similar titles. Curse you, Harvey Weinstein!
Approximately 126 minutes.
Ko Chun is the God of Gamblers, in that he is really really good at gambling. One night, he goes to Japan to face off against a man named Wang…or Tanaka…I’ll call him Wang. After beating Wang in two different games (doing something in the dice game that could be considered cheating), Wang reveals that he did not challenge Chun to beat him, but to confirm his skills and get a meeting. Wang has a grudge against a notorious Singaporean gambler named Chan Kam-Sing, whose cheating led Wang’s father to commit suicide. As Wang is not confident in his own skills at gambling, he wants Chun to defeat Kam-Sing. Chun accepts, asking only for a box of chocolates in exchange. He is not exactly happy, though, that Wang has saddled him with a bodyguard named Dragon.
Knife is…not the God of Gamblers. He, his girlfriend, and his lackey have big dreams, but not the skill to pull it off.
Knife owes gambling money to a local tough guy and is struggling in poverty. One day, he gets into an argument with an ethnic Indian from a richer part of the neighborhood. A few racist and homophobic comments get thrown around until they part ways. Knife and his lackey get to making a little trap, where the Indian man will fall down a hill and land in a pill of urine and feces. Still with me?
Back to Ko Chun, who has won against a gambler named Nam. Nam writes a check for Ko Chun, and then sends a bunch of goons after him to retrieve the check. Chun manages to evade the goons and Dragon dispense of those who manage to find him. Chun then leaves Dragon to find his way on his own. On his way, he comes across the ethnic Indian man and, after some more homophobic and racist back-and-forth, they part ways…and Chun immediately falls into Knife’s trap. Serves him right for being racist, I suppose.
Knife and his compatriots find Chun at their front door, unconscious. They start panicking as he is seriously hurt. They do not want to take him to a hospital, as they might get in trouble if it is discovered how Chun ended up that way. Chun has no identification on him, so they have no idea who he is. They do notice, though, that he has quite a bit of money on him. When Chun wakes up, he has reverted to a childlike state…or a state of complete idiocy. He does not seem to know who he is and does not care: all he wants is chocolate.
Knife thinks that he is insane and wants him gone. Knife’s girlfriend, Jen, had some medical training and convinces them to let Chun stay. Since all they know about him is that he likes chocolate, they name him Chocolate.
Knife still finds Chocolate to be extremely irritating, but he learns to live with it when he learns that Chocolate has a knack for gambling, even though he does not actually know how he does things. Using this knowledge, Knife tries to use Chocolate to get himself out of debt from the local tough and actually make big money. This leads to more gambling and…some gangsters.
Gambling is a huge part of Chinese society. My grandfather, whom I never met, was supposedly a terrible gambling addict and, the perhaps the main reason why my brother and I rarely gamble is that my father did not really disapprove of gambling while we were growing up as much as he pretty much did not acknowledge its existence. In any case, God of Gamblers was actually the second movie in 1989 about gambling directed by Wong Jing and and starring Andy Lau. The two movies pretty much set off a storm of movies out of Hong Kong about gambling. As I said earlier, there were a whole lot of sequels, spin offs, etc. Hong Kong’s film industry likes to cannibalize its own just like Hollywood does. I have not really checked out the other ones. Maybe it is for the best, as this one has a charm to it that I would rather treat as unique…even if it is not.
As I said, gambling pretty much did not exist in my household when I was growing up, and I have practically no interest in gambling or gambling stories. The amnesia story is also done to death and a bit of the subplot may be reminiscent of Rain Man, which was released the previous year. The appeal of this movie is not so much the content of the story, but how the story can turn on a dime while still being the same story. At some points, it seems as if the writer wrote ten-to-twenty minutes worth of story, got bored, threw something else in, struggled to tie it into the original story, kept writing, got bored again, and put in a completely gratuitous scene in because it was funny. The director then took this near mess of a story and ran with it, going full throttle in whatever direction the story went, which only adds to the silliness. And the characters had to go with it too. Of course, Wong Jing was both writer and director of this, which was one of eleven movies that Wong Jing wrote and one of seven that he directed in 1989 alone. Because Wong Jing is insane.
Some of the best parts of this movie are when characters start exhibiting a trait that they never had before in the movie, and I am left to wonder if they could do that the entire time. The great Chow Yun-Fat can probably play the smooth and charming Ko Chun in his sleep, but, as I had said in my article on Let The Bullets Fly, he had come up playing comedic roles before John Woo got a hold of him. Here, he has to do both in a single movie, and goes all in. In fact, the frequent sudden turns in the movie are quite funny too, and they kept me on my toes. This movie was released just as Stephen Chow was making the transition from television into movies, and it makes sense that he would be in the sequels, as this movie (at least the comedic parts) tend to adhere to the style of nonsense that he has promoted.
I don’t really have much else to say about this movie. It is funny. It is wild. It is brilliantly stupid. It is goofy. It is great. God of Gamblers.
WTF ASIA 39: Pushpaka Vimanamu (India: 1987. Approx. 129 minutes).
WTF ASIA 40: Memories of Matsuko (Japan: 2006. Approx. 130 minutes). This is my favorite movie, by the way.
Available online…I think…