POKER KING Review
Macau, officially the number one gambling Mecca anywhere in the world. Forget Las Vegas and its family-oriented approach, here in (until ten years ago) Portuguese-occupied China, it's all about the casinos. Sure, they've got Cirque De Soleil and host hugely overpriced gigs from the likes of Linkin Park and Beyonce, but audiences tend to have their tickets bundled together with their hotel bill as part of a weekend package and would far rather be hitting the tables than watching spandex-clad Frenchmen lift each other.
POKER KING plays like a tourist ad for this gold leaf-smothered playground, where the casino floors are clean, every hotel room boasts a plunge pool and floor to ceiling windows, the cobbled streets exude romantic European quaintness and even the bottled water is free. Everyone is a winner in this version of Macau. Everyone, that is, except Jack Chang (Louis Koo).
Jack is heir to a powerful casino conglomerate, currently operating under the watchful eye of Uno Cheuk (Lau Ching Wan), gambling addict turned Chang Sr.'s business partner. When his father dies, Jack returns to Macau, but soon loses his share of the business to Uno in a poker game. Although a champion online player, Jack has no experience playing face to face and is easily outsmarted.
Out on his ear, Jack, who seems to be something of a simpleton, if not borderline autistic, hooks up with Smiley (Stephy Tang), a young woman Jack is convinced is his lucky charm, and baker's assistant Ho (Wong You Nam). His plan is to enter the Asian Poker King tournament and win back his fortune, challenging Uno in the process. To stump up the entrance fee, Jack turns to rival casino owner, Ms. Fong (Josie Ho), to sponsor him.
With its high production values, flashy visual style and A-list cast, POKER KING is an enjoyable, if disposable, romp. It gives a polished, sparkling portrayal of Macau and even when it does broach the gaping financial divide between the haves and the have-nots of the city, it appears everyone still lives in bright, airy apartments and sleeps on clean sheets with a contented smile on their face no matter what their net worth.
Louis Koo continues his total domination of 2009, appearing in something like his 37th film this year. His performance here is as bright and superficial as everything that surrounds him, including his collection of increasingly ridiculous and brightly coloured bow ties. Lau Ching Wan turns in a great comic turn as Uno, at once greedy, shameless, and yet rather likeable. There's also a nice supporting role for Josie Ho, sending up her real life persona as a scheming Macanese heiress, who makes up for the insipid wet blanket that is Stephy Tang. There are also a number of cheeky cameos from the likes of Lam Suet and Cheung Siu Fai.
POKER KING follows the same tried and tested formula of GOD OF COOKERY and countless other successful, and not so successful, Hong Kong comedies, charting the fall and rise of its main character, even ending in a winner-takes-all publicly held competition. But that's no bad thing. Ultimately, POKER KING has a few decent laughs along the way to paste over the gaping plot holes and inconsistencies and, while in no danger of breaking the bank, it's a fairly safe bet, generating at least enough goodwill for one more hand.