God of Gamblers Series 1989 - 2016
Started in 1989 by the prolific Wong Jing, the God of Gamblers series has been continuing to entertain audiences for the past 27 years. Starring some of the biggest stars in Hong Kong cinema, Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Stephen Chow, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Ng Man Tat, Leon Lai, Nick Cheung, Donnie Yen and a lot more, the series has had its ups and downs, but each film usually has something for most Hong Kong cinema fans. Incorporating sequels, spinoffs, unofficial spinoffs and even spinoffs of spinoffs, the God of Gamblers series is truly one of a kind.
God of Gamblers – 1989
This is where it all started. Probably the best film from Wong Jing (some would argue that it wouldn’t be difficult), God of Gamblers is a multi genre film including high comedy, drama, action and even more comedy. Chow Yun Fat plays Ko Chun, the God of Gamblers of the title. After an accident knocks him seven shades of silly, he is taken in by Knife, played by Andy Lau. After Knife realises the idiot savant’s gambling powers, he decides to exploit him for all he’s worth. Like most Hong Kong comedies, there are major tonal shifts. One minute you are laughing at one of Chow’s many pratfalls, only to have his wife murdered and raped (and I did get that the right way round) in the next scene. Fans of Hong Kong cinema will not be surprised by these tonal changes, as it really is the norm with these films. It is not hard to see why Chow Yun Fat would have been interested in the role of Ko Chun, as it gives him a chance to show his range. He gets to be his usual suave self at the beginning of the film, until he becomes like Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man. He also still gets a number of action scenes, which after his success with John Woo was probably expected. Andy Lau is also good, considering his character is a bit of a dick. Considering the only reason that he initially helps Ko Chun is because he caused his accident, he is not exactly what heroes are made of. Fortunately his character is quite funny and has good chemistry with Yun Fat and his leading lady Joey Wong. Throw in a decent supporting cast of Charles Heung, Ng Man Tat and the always welcome Shing Fui On all go to make God of Gamblers a film not to be missed.
All for the Winner – 1990
The first of the unofficial spinoffs. After the success of God of Gamblers a number of Hong Kong movies went in to production to cash in. All for the Winner was one of these. What sets it out from the crowd of imitations was down to the rising star power of Stephen Chow Sing Chi. Due to this film he went on to become the biggest box office draw in Hong Kong. All for the Winner also went on to become the highest grossing film in Hong Kong history at the time of its release. The plot concerns mainlander Sing (Chow Sing Chi), who travels to Hong Kong to visit his uncle played by the excellent Ng Man Tat. Like Andy Lau’s character in God of Gamblers, Man Tat can’t really be bothered with Sing until he finds out about his gifts, which in this film is his ability to see through objects. From that all matter of hi-jinks ensues, with Man Tat exploiting his nephew’s gift. Co-Directed by Yuen Kwai (Cory Yuen) and comedy king Jeff Lau, All for the Winner is nowhere as slick as the film it takes inspiration from, and is quite uneven. The film does have a number of great action scenes, unsurprisingly as they are directed by Yuen, and the laugh ratio is very high. This was also the first film to realise the great partnership Chow and Ng Man Tat could make. The reason All for the Winner is included in the main God of Gamblers series as Chow and Man Tat took their characters into the main series in God of Gamblers 2.
God of Gamblers 2 – 1990
The first official sequel to the smash hit God of Gamblers unfortunately doesn’t star Chow Yun Fat. On the plus side his replacement is Stephen Chow, which makes this sequel somewhat sillier and than the original. It is also a lot funnier. Chow; along with Ng Man Tat play the same characters from All for the Winner. This is where the series starts to get slightly confusing in terms of what films are deemed cannon, as this movie is both a sequel to the original God of Gamblers and the unofficial spinoff/rip-off All for the Winner. Andy Lau returns as Knife, and is this time along with Chow, is promoted to lead duties. The plot is just an excuse for Lau and Chow to get into comedic situations. The addition of Chow to the film means that there is slightly less action than the previous movie, but there is still enough to keep you entertained, with Charles Heung showing up in his shell-suit to kick ass when needed. It is best not putting too much though into this series as actors do appear in multiple films, sometimes as different characters, such as Ng Man Tat who appeared in the first God of Gamblers as a villain but is now on sidekick duties.
God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai – 1991
This is when the God of Gamblers series went totally bonkers. Probably the best of the three Gamblers films to star Stephen Chow, it is also the most like a full on Stephen Chow comedy. The plot includes time travel, doppelgangers, musical numbers and a number of extremely violent action scenes. This time round Sing is accidentally sent back in time to 1930’s Shanghai. Whilst there he meets up with the effeminate grandfather of his Uncle (also played by Ng Man Tat), and gets himself involved in a triad war by befriending gang boss Ray Liu. The film ends up like most of the God of Gamblers in a large gambling tournament, with Chow using his magic against the villains. God of Gamblers 3 had everything fans of the series had come to expect, with more thrown in for good measure. The film also has a bit of gravitas by having mainland star Gong Li show up in a dual role. This wasn’t the only film she made with Stephen Chow, as she also showed up in Flirting Scholar, so she obviously enjoyed working with him. Unfortunately this is the last of the God of Gamblers to date to star Stephen Chow.
The Top Bet – 1991
Technically not officially part of the God of Gamblers series, but it has been included as it is a spinoff/sequel to All for the Winner. Chow Sing Chi sadly doesn’t return but Ng Man Tat does along with Directors Jeff Lau and Yuen Kwai. The film concerns Man Tat looking for a suitable replacement for his nephew. This time round there is more of a female focus with Carol Cheng and Anita Mui being the stars of the film. Unfortunately The Top Bet can’t live up to the original, with a lot of the jokes not hitting their target. It is just another typical 90’s Hong Kong comedy, livened up a bit by its game cast, and some good action scenes.
Return of the God of Gamblers – 1994
After five years, Wong Jing finally tempted Chow Yun Fat back to his signature role of Ko Chun. Although not as entertaining as the original, the sequel is still great fun and has a great supporting cast including Tony Leung Ka Fai, Chingamy Yau, Wu Chien-Lien and the scene stealing Elvis Tsui. The story involves Ko Chun, who has now immigrated to France, living with his pregnant wife (Cheung Man). The usual bad guys show up to challenge Ko Chun. Typical of a Hong Kong comedy, this challenge includes killing Ko Chun’s wife and cutting out her unborn child from her stomach. They then proceed to put the foetus in a jar. Even I thought this was too much. Fortunately the film does get somewhat lighter after this, but still does involve a number of violent action scenes. Tony Leung is great in a purely comedic role. Wu Chien-Lien seems to be brought in to add a bit of dramatic weight to proceedings. Charles Heung also shows up in his obligatory role of Lone Ng. Add in the always excellent Elvis Tsui and you have a cast that is almost every bit as good as the original. There seems to be more ridiculous comedy throughout this sequel compared to the original. I think this may have been done to keep it more in line with the sequels that starred Chow Sing Chi. On a side note, Cheung Man once again plays Ko Chun’s wife. She also played his wife in the original God of Gamblers, but that was a different character. It always seemed strange to me that they got Cheung Man to play this part in the sequel as it implies that Ko Chun is a bit twisted and married a woman because she was identical to his first wife. Cheung Man also appeared in All for the Winner and God of Gamblers 2 and God of Gamblers 3 each time playing a different character. That makes five appearances in this series as a different character. This is just par for the course with this series.
The Saint of Gamblers – 1995
A lesser film in the God of Gamblers series. Wong Jing attempted to resurrect the franchise with a new actor replacing Chow Yun Fat and/or Chow Sing Chi. Unfortunately he cast the mugging Eric Kot. Luckily Ng Man Tat returns as Uncle Tat to at least make the film enjoyable. Donnie Yen also makes a brief appearance as Lone Seven, brother of Lone Ng. Must be bad when you can’t get Charles Heung to make an appearance. There isn’t really much of a plot to speak of, just the usual story of the lead being challenged and ending up in a gambling competition. Kot’s character has magic powers like Chow Sing Chi in the previous movies, so the card games are played for laughs. There is fun to be had with Saint of Gamblers, but fans of the previous movies should lower their expectations.
God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage – 1996
A prequel to the original God of Gamblers, this one does have a confusing title, being the second film in the series to have the name of God of Gamblers 3. Don’t let this put you off, as this is one of the better entries in the series. Leon Lai subs for the absent Chow Yun Fat, as Ko Chun. Lai has never been the greatest of actors but is great here and has the right look for the young version of the God of Gamblers. The plot involves Ko Chun being betrayed by his partners and coming back for revenge the only way he knows how. By gambling with them. Jordan Chan shows up to steal the film as Lone Ng, replacing Charles Heung. There is a bit of ret-conning going on in the movie, as Ko Chun and Lone Ng meet for the first time in God of Gamblers, but meet for the first time in this prequel, which contradicts the original film. This is a minor complaint considering the other things that have went on in this series. The movie also seems to have higher production values than some of the previous movies in the series and a quality supporting cast including my favourite Francis Ng and Anita Yuen. The prequel also is less reliant on comedy than previous entries. Sure there are funny scenes, but nothing as crazy as Stephen Chow’s additions. The action scenes are great, with Jordan Chan doing most of the hard work, although Leon Lai does get involved. This would be the last proper God of Gamblers film although there would be spinoffs and rip offs. I have covered some of them below as they do tie in to the main series but others such as the Conman, Conman in Vegas and Conman 2002 I have left out as it is unclear if they are actually canonically part of the franchise although do share elements. All I can say about them is that Conman is quite boring, Conman in Vegas is slightly better and Conman 2002 is crap.
Conman in Tokyo – 2000
Wong Jing takes a backseat in this addition to the God of Gamblers franchise, handing over directing duties to Ching Siu Tung. The film is pretty much more of the same, with Louis Koo now taking over as the lead. Koo plays Cool, who is the successor to the Knight of Gamblers, which was played by Andy Lau in the God of Gamblers film. This is the only part of the film that actually ties this to the main series, other than the usual crazy hi-jinks that are expected in a Hong Kong gambling movie. Koo is great in the lead role, and it is easy to see how he has become one of Hong Kong’s best leading men. Although he should lay-off the sun beds. Sidekick duties are taken up by Nick Cheung, who is great here and would only go on to better things. Cheung was also part of Wong Jing’s Conman films, but plays a different character in this. Yusuaka Kurata also takes part and proves that he can still kick ass. Some of the comedy scenes miss the mark completely, although some parts can be hilarious. Action scenes are good, but are a bit lacklustre considering they had the great Ching Siu Tung behind them. Although a fan movie, it doesn’t compare to the greats of the franchise but is heads above the Top Bet and Saint of Gamblers.
From Vegas to Macau – 2014
Essentially a God of Gamblers film in everything but name. Chow Yun Fat is back, along with Wong Jing, co-directing with Billy Chung. Yun Fat stars as former gambling King Ken who gets involved with Nicolas Tse and Chapman To, who want to be his apprentices. This just gives the film the usual excuse to have the cast get involved in crazy situations and action. This is a big budget production as it was co produced with China. This means that the films content could never match up to the original God of Gamblers, as the censors have to be appeased. In this day and age adjustments have to be made, and at least this enabled the production to get Chow Yun Fat back in the starring role. The film still has that Wong Jing flavour with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. Some of the action scenes are especially well done with Philip Kwok and the excellent Zhang Jin showing their worth. The main other reason that it fits into the God of Gamblers series is down to the film’s final scene having a cameo from Ko Chun, also played by Chow Yun Fat. This is a fun scene but also makes you wonder why Wong Jing and Chow Yun Fat didn’t just go ahead and make a proper God of Gamblers sequel.
From Vegas to Macau 2 – 2015
Wong Jing returns once again to the gambling den. Co-directing this time with Aman Cheung, he delivers more of the same, which is not as enjoyable as the first From Vegas to Macau, but still makes for an enjoyable time at the movies. This time round there seems to be even more money thrown at the screen, with quite a bit of globe-trotting going on. A large part of the film takes place in Thailand, and the action scenes are much larger in scale. It also seems to have learned from the first, that fans really like to see Chow Yun Fat with a gun in his hand, preferably one in each hand. The sequel is also much sillier than the first with Ken this time having a Robot butler, who he shouts abuse at. Some critics moaned about this addition. I though as silly as it was, it was quite amusing. Nicolas Tse doesn’t return for the sequel and is replaced by Shawn Yue as an Interpol Agent. This is a fair trade, and Yue actually seems to get more to do than Tse did in the first film. Other additions to the cast are Nick Cheung, who seems more than happy to be back in comedy mode after years of doing purely dramatic roles. This is probably the funniest he has been in a long time. Carina Lau is also on hand as Ken’s old girlfriend/villain. The only drawback of this is the scenes Lau and Fat share drag the film out, and add to an already unnecessary run time. If you were a fan of the first From Vegas to Macau there is no way you are going to miss this one. The final scene this time has both Ko Chun (Chow Yun Fat again) and Knife (Andy Lau) appearing.
From Vegas to Macau 3 – 2016
From Vegas to Macau 3 proved to be the most controversial of the series, with a lot of critics and the public seemingly boycotting the film over Wong Jing’s supposed political leanings. I don’t really understand some peoples thinking. Of course Wong Jing isn’t going to bad mouth China. That is where he makes his living. The film also garnered some extremely poor reviews which I suspect were written before even seeing the movie. I am not saying that it is an excellent film, but it is still good fun, and is no worse than the previous two in the series. If anything it is slightly better than the sequel, with the added bonus of Andy Lau returning in a leading role as Knife, from the God of Gamblers. Out of the three movies, From Vegas to Macau 3 has the most ties to the Original God of Gamblers, with Ko Chun as a main character this time round starring alongside himself as Ken. It is also the silliest out of the three, including a robot romance and a transformers style fight scene. From Vegas to Macau 3 also has the most star power with Chow Yun Fat, Nick Cheung, Andy Lau, Shawn Yue, and Carina Lau from the previous movies and with the new addition of superstar Jacky Cheung and Charles Heung reprising his role of Lone Ng from the original God of Gamblers. Everyone involved seems to be enjoying themselves, and although it none of their best work, you can’t help being taken in by it all. Behind the camera, there isn’t only Wong Jing. He is assisted by Andrew Lau of Internal Affairs fame and also by Billy Chung. I suppose it is a bit confusing that this needed three directors, as sometimes it seems that the actors were left to their own devices. Some of the special effects are also poor, but kind of compliment the overall wacky tone of the film.